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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:1, Spring 2022

Unsilencing the Archives

The virtual exhibition Unsilencing the Archives: The Laborers of the Tell en-Nasbeh Excavations (1926–1935) has been recently launched online by the Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology. Developed with support from the Palestine Exploration Fund, it portrays the role of local laborers and Egyptian foremen in excavating Tell en-Nasbeh, an archaeological site about 8 miles northwest of Jerusalem in what was British Mandate Palestine.

Local laborers employed at archaeological digs around the Middle East appear only anecdotally in field documentation, dig reports, and publications. Large excavation projects—almost exclusively directed by European or American scholars—have historically hired dozens and hundreds of local men, women, and even children to perform the “unskilled labor” of digging, hauling, and dumping the excavated material. Many seasoned laborers and their foremen developed professional excavation skills and acquired formidable knowledge, yet their important role in the region’s archaeology has largely gone unnoticed (see Silent Labor.)

To fill in this narrative, the present exhibit showcases unpublished archival documents, photographs, and historical film footage that illustrate the untold stories. The visual material is arranged in five parts with extensive commentary. We learn about individual laborers, as well as their salaries, daily routines, and dig tasks. Other documents illustrate hiring practices and negotiations between the foreign archaeologists and local landholders.

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