Unsilencing the Archives

Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology

Unsilencing the Archives


Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology
Berkeley, California

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 article, p. 18).

To fill in this narrative, the present exhibit showcases unpublished archival documents, photographs, and historical film footage that illustrate the untold stories.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.

Free, web-based, and open-access, this rich material is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Related content, including public programming, is available on YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

In late 2020, the Badè Museum launched another virtual exhibit centered around the excavations at Tell en-Nasbeh. Titled Daily Life in an Ancient Judean Town, this project is built around artifacts excavated by William F. Badè from Tell en-Nasbeh and offers a glimpse into the lifestyles and culture of ancient Judeans during the first millennium B.C.E.

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