John Garstang (1876–1956) -- By: Milton C. Fisher

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 05:4 (Autumn 1992)
Article: John Garstang (1876–1956)
Author: Milton C. Fisher

John Garstang (1876–1956)

Milton C. Fisher

One bright day in the autumn of 1927 University of Liverpool’s Professor of Archaeology, John Garstang, set out on a proposed three-day trek north from the Sea of Galilee in search of a lost Biblical site, the major Canaanite city of Hazor. By noon the expedition was over, and he was back on the shores of the Galilee rejoicing in his “lucky hit” of the morning. He was confident that all conditions for identification of what Kitchener’s map marked as a natural feature was indeed the location he sought, and subsequent excavations proved him right.

What sort of explorer of the ancient world was this, and why is his name less known and his achievements less heralded than those of many other archaeological greats? The second question is quickest to answer. His dating of major destruction levels at both Hazor and Jericho have been questioned and “corrected” by more recent excavators and “experts,” so his reputation has been reduced in proportion to his weakened credibility.

Did John Garstang deserve such a slight? Hardly! Just take a glance over his career. By age 23 he published the Roman site of Ribchester in England, having developed an interest in Romano-British archaeology while a mathematics scholar at Oxford. Three years later he became a reader (lecturer) in Egyptian archaeology at the University of Liverpool, then from 1907 till 1941 held a post there as Professor of Archaeological Methods and Practice.

As early as 1899 John Garstang had gone to Egypt to learn under the best of mentors, W. M. Flinders Petrie, and for the following 15 years he excavated in Egypt, Nubia, and Asia Minor. As an authority on Hittite civilization he published a standard work in 1910, with its revision as The Hittite Empire appearing in 1927. Garstang found evidence of Roman occupation at Meroe, capital of the ancient “Ethiopian” (Nubian) kingdom, during excavations in 1910–14.

So when, at the close of World War I (he served with the Red Cross), Garstang was made the first director of the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem and the next year placed in charge of the Palestinian Department

John Garstang examines an interesting find at Jericho.

of Antiquities, he was far from inexperienced. He retired from both these posts in 1926, but returned to Palestine the following year to conduct the expedition described at the beginning of this account. He obviously knew what he was about, and how to go about it.

Subsequently, John Garstang pursued his important exploration of th...

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