Book: Exploring the Holy Land
Chapter: 9. R.A.S. Macalister and His Excavations at Tel Gezer: Some Critical Comments
R.A.S. Macalister was an Irish scholar who was sent to Palestine at the behest of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1898 in order to work with and ultimately to replace Frederick Jones Bliss on the four tells of the Shephelah project and later to work independently at Tel Gezer from 1902–1905 and 1907–1909. Afterwards he returned to Ireland to become a renown Irish archaeologist, returning to Palestine only to excavate with John Garrow Duncan in Jerusalem in 1923, leaving Duncan to finish the PEF project in 1924 and 1925. Macalister’s main legacy in Palestine was his work at Gezer, promptly published in three volumes in 1911-1912. This article critically discusses Macalister’s field methodology at Gezer and the publication of his results, especially in comparison to the work of his contemporaries. Macalister’s main problem was his decision to excavate the entire site, ostensibly in order to preserve its contents from robbers. This overly ambitious decision affected how he excavated and, as a result, the quality of his publication. Despite its deficiencies, scholars have found immense value in the Gezer publication, and it continues to be frequently cited until today. Credit should also be given to Macalister for being the first archaeologist excavating in Palestine to (1) consider major tell sites in conjunction with their hinterland and (2) for identifying the havoc wreaked by the activities of antiquities robbers and collectors on the archaeological heritage of the region.