Dr Lenia Kouneni sheds light on the history of the university’s collection and the sponsor behind the excavation.

The last few weeks my research has led me to some intriguing detective work in order to shed some light into an important archaeological collection owned by the University of St Andrews in the 1950s and its current whereabouts. There is always a story behind every excavation project, from its first conception to the publication of its results and display of findings. These stories are important; they help us understand the scholars’ motivations and incentives, the means by which archaeologists accessed the monuments, and the networks they established. When it comes to archaeological research and excavations, the main protagonists are usually the archaeologists who uncover the material and the objects or buildings unearthed. There is, though, always an elaborate network of connections and organisations that support them and facilitate their work. Sponsorship played- and still does- a crucial role in the evolution of archaeological research. By the mid-twentieth century, institutions, such as the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust, became major funding bodies for archaeological projects, but archaeologists still had to cultivate relationships with wealthy patrons and rely on private networks in order to finance their ideas and projects.

I am currently working on one such Scottish sponsor of archaeological excavations with strong links to the University of St Andrews. Sir David Russell (1872 – 1956) was a wealthy papermaker and philanthropist from Fife, Scotland (fig. 1). He was the driving force behind the expansion and evolution of Tullis Russell and Company Ltd, papermakers based in Markinch, but he had a wide range of interests, such as sport cars, golf, photography and spiritualism. His wealth not only allowed him to pursue his interests, but also led to many generous benefactions and patronage of numerous institutions, schemes and individuals.

Fig. 1. Sir David Russell at the site of the Great Palace excavation, Sultanahmet, Istanbul (Constantinople), 1936 [Photo: University of St Andrews Photographic Collection, Sir David Russell Papers, ms38515-13-Leica-Album2-35-25]
His active involvement in archaeology started in the early 1930s when Sir David Russell provided the financial means and administrative support to an archaeological expedition to uncover the Great Palace of the Byzantine Emperors in Istanbul, led by James Houston Baxter (1894-1973), a Professor of Ecclesiastical History at the University of St Andrews. Russell utilised the Walker Trust of the University of St Andrews, which had been established by one of his ancestors, as a conduit for passing personal funds to the project. During my research on Russell’s sponsorship of the Great Palace expedition, I came across various other contributions that he made to archaeological projects in Anatolia, mainly of Byzantine but also of prehistoric interest. One of them was to Kathleen Kenyon’s excavations in Jericho in the 1950s. When Kenyon, a British archaeologist associated with the University of London Institute of Archaeology, was appointed director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem in 1951, she initiated an excavation project at Jericho in 1952. She initially anticipated that the project will run for two seasons, but due to the findings she prolonged her work there for a total of seven seasons, until 1958.

The principal sponsor for Kenyon’s excavations was the British Academy, but support also came through other institutions and individuals. One of the major contributors was the Russell Trust, established by Sir David Russell in memory of his son, Pat, killed in the war. The Russell papers in the archive of the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews contain significant correspondence between Russell and Kenyon that documents Russell’s contribution to the scheme and provides a valuable insight into the donor-receiver relationship between archaeologists and their funders. Kathleen Kenyon knew David Russell since the early 1940s, when she was working as an honorary archaeological adviser to the British Council. In 1942 she had been asked to act as the intermediary between David Russell and Michael Grant, the representative of the British Council in Turkey, who was looking after the interests of the Great Palace site in Istanbul during the time of the war, when the Walker Trust excavation had come to a halt. It was due to the personal relationship developed between the two of them that Kenyon asked David Russell for financial help at the end of the first season.

David Russell committed himself to sponsor the Jericho excavations; he gave a substantial contribution to the work of the second season and agreed to sponsor the excavations for any further seasons. Even after Sir David’s death in 1956, his son, Major David Russell continued his father’s legacy and provided support to Kenyon’s projects. Kenyon wrote frequently, especially at the end of each season, providing Russell with information on the results of work and most importantly, sending him a share of the findings. According to the Antiquities Ordinance of 1920 and 1929, archaeologists who excavated in Jordan could claim a percentage of their findings for their own institutions back home. A large amount of archaeological material from the site of Jericho was dispersed all over the world as a result of the international nature of the team led by Kenyon. The major portion was deposited in the Castle Museum in Amman and the Palestine Archaeological Museum (nowadays the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum), while others went to the British Museum in London, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and elsewhere.

As a major contributor, the Russell Trust received a fair share of the findings at the end of each season, which ended up in a storeroom at the Bute building awaiting cataloguing and the hope of the establishment of a Museum of Archaeology. As I was going through the correspondence between Kenyon and Russell, I came across detailed lists of items from Jericho ranging from pottery to wooden objects and scarabs, dating mainly from the middle Bronze age (fig. 2). I almost screamed with excitement! Could we possibly have this material here in St Andrews? Thus, a quest for the whereabouts of the Jericho objects started and with the help of Alison Hadfield and Rebecca Sweetman, we were able to establish that foreign archaeological material from the university collections was transferred in 1988 to the National Museum of Scotland. A search through the online database of the museum revealed a number of items from Kenyon’s excavations, matching the lists in the archives of St Andrews. Correspondence with the curator in the museum also verified the transfer.

Fig. 2. List of items sent by Kenyon to the University of St Andrews, July 1955 [Photo: University of St Andrews Special Collections, Sir David Russell Papers, ms38515/11/14/10]
Kenyon was very accurate in recording at the end of the Excavations at Jericho Volume IV (pp 638-42) the location of all materials in museums and institutions, where they were shipped. However, since then many of these objects have been transferred, deposited or gifted to other institutions. In this process a significant part of their early reception history is lost and forgotten. Studies on the relationship between archaeologists and their funders help us contextualise and assess the political, social and economic framework within which archaeology developed. Sir David Russell’s name, the involvement of the University of St Andrews to the Jericho expedition and the history of the findings now deposited in the NMS would be forgotten if not for archival research. Such research helps to identify, contextualise and interpret artefacts in museums, providing information on their provenance and history of acquisition and informing their documentation, but also offers a way of reconnecting the public to artefacts in their local collections and museums.

 

 

 

 

 

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