Chicago University Excavations at Megiddo

Israel Unearthed

Chicago University Excavations at Megiddo was unprecedented in its scale. As World War I wound down in 1919, James Henry Breasted initiates the foundation of the Oriental Institute of Chicago. In fact, the initial funds came from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Alongside with funds that The University of Chicago was able to raise. So in May 1919, the Oriental Institute was officially open; and Breasted was the inaugural director.



As Breasted scouted future archaeological sites he reached Damascus and met with the Arab leader Faisal; who would become king of Iraq. After Damascus, he reached Jerusalem and Haifa. So in Haifa, he stayed overnight, and on the 2nd of June 1920, he visited Tel Megiddo. Due to some difficulties on route, he could only see Megiddo from the distance. While Breasted reaches Egypt he came to know many of the British political figures and scholars working in Egypt.

For example, Field Marshal Lord Allenby that in those days was the British Governor of Egypt. So Breasted reputation was known to Allenby that read a lot about Megiddo. And the successful Battle of Megiddo lead by Tuthmosis III. About 3,500 years before the successful battle Allenby won against the Ottomans. Already on this visit, Breasted began to plan his archeological dig. At the same time, he submitted his field reports to the President of the University of Chicago. he also stressed the fact that the British promised Megiddo for him and his team to excavate.

Chicago University Excavations at Megiddo: Breasted First Visit To Megiddo

Already two years after his initial visit to the area Breasted finally set foot on the Tel. Also accompanying him is Prof. John Garstang. Garstang served as the director of the Department of Antiquities in the British Mandate of Palestine Between 1920-1926. Ultimately, Breasted turned for financial support to John D. Rockefeller, Jr his patron. And John D. Rockefeller, Jr obliged and personally visited the excavations at Megiddo in 1929. Actually, this visit included Egypt and Palestine.

On his arrival to Jerusalem with Breasted’s encouragement, Rockefeller donated a hefty amount to open an archeological museum in Jerusalem. Now is officially called The Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. Until this very day;  the archaeological digs in Tel Megiddo made by the University of Chicago are the most extensive digs in the history of the country. It lasted 13 years, from 1926 to 1938, and had three different directors.



Chicago University Excavations at Megiddo Under Clarence Stanley Fisher

The very first field director on behalf of Chicago University Excavations in Megiddo was C.S Fisher. Fisher was an architect by training graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. But Fisher devoted his career to Near Eastern archeology. For a while, he co-headed for a while with George Andrew Reisner digging Sebaste (the Biblical city of Samaria). And in the years 1921-1923, he conducted the excavations at Tel Beit Shean on behalf of the University of Pennsylvania. So Fisher was an excellent field archaeologist. Also, he had lots of experience and showed great interest in pottery, and spent the years 1936-1940 compiling his monumental Corpus of Palestinian Pottery.

But, C.S Fisher did not consult with Gottlieb Schumacher concerning the digs at Megiddo. Even though he was still alive. As a result, little attention was given by the American team to prior digs made by Schumacher. Another aspect that brought disastrous results was the location where they set up camp.

Now if Fisher would have bothered and met with Schumacher he would have known that the location where to set up camp is critical. Schumacher would have been able to warn Fisher not to set up camp next to the freshwater spring; where there were mosquitoes carrying the malaria disease (A mosquito-borne infectious disease). So if he would have chosen a different location to set up camp at maybe he wouldn’t have caught the disease. And then could conduct the excavations for many more years.



Fisher Is About To Be Replaced by P.L.O. Guy

As the health of C.S Fisher had deteriorated rapidly due to the Malaria he got. As a result, in May 1927 he had to leave handing over the lead to Phillip Langstaffe Ord Guy. During the short period of Fisher’s directorship, the excavations were limited in scale. First, the entire mound was measured and a grid was set. Interestingly enough is Fisher’s way to catalog and register the pottery that they found. So he writes in his journal:

And if the vessel is not a museum or study piece; it is discarded to make room for other shapes. Many duplicates occur in the course of excavations; and there are always odd fragments of broken jars which can never be assembled. Unless decorated, there are merely noted and then at once discarded. (Fisher 1929)

The Excavations Under P.L.O. Guy

So in May 1927 Breasted nominated Philip Langstaffe Ord Guy as the field director of the excavations at Tel Megiddo. Actually, Guy fulfilled the post of field director of the Megiddo excavations from May 1927 till his dismissal in June 1935. In fact, most of the monumental structures dating to the time of the Kings of Israel were uncovered during Guy’s term as field director. Also, the water system was exposed in its entirety and published by Robert Lamon during the directorship of P.L.O. Guy.

From the correspondence between the Oriental Institute and Guy, we can learn that Lamon’s excavations methods were severely criticized by the Oriental Institute. Especially because of the creation of a massive excavation crater. According to the institute, it destroyed any hope of reaching a comprehensive stratigraphic analysis of the area.

Above all, Guy uncovered the northern and southern stables compounds and assigned them to the reign of King Solomon. In this way Guy associated, for the first time, finds from the excavation at Tel Megiddo with King Solomon. An issue that forms the basis for a heated scholarly discussion to the present day. Guy also uncovered the city gate of Stratum III; dated it as well to the reign of Solomon.



The Excavations Directed by Gordon Kenneth Loud

While at first glance, the choice of Gordon Loud to fill the post of field director of the Megiddo excavations was an excellent one. Since Loud was a gifted person and very dedicated. On the other hand, it seems clear the nomination was not optimal. Neither Loud nor his assistant had any background, nor knowledge, or experience in the archaeology of the Land of Israel in the biblical period. Furthermore, Loud did not have any knowledge; experience, or understanding regarding the stratigraphy of a multi-level mound; which is elementary for the excavation of the biblical sites.

Also Loud was not interested in details that were continuously being uncovered in excavations of this kind in the Land of Israel. Also, He did not show serious consideration to the pottery assemblage and their meaning, except for complete vessels. Another key point is that the field experience which Loud acquired before coming to Megiddo was only in Karanis and Khorsabad. Surprisingly sites in which broken pottery was not considered important. Also, the stratigraphic aspect; Khorsabad was a single-level site that was inhabited over a short period of time and its excavations did not raise any stratigraphic issues.



Chicago University Excavations at Megiddo: Loud’s Excavation

So the aspect of slow, gradual, and complex stratigraphic development of strata in a continuously settled mound was largely neglected by Loud and his assistant, Altman. As mentioned above, little attention was given to the pottery excavation of Khorsabad. The report of Khorsabad excavations published by Loud and Altman presents only about thirty complete vessels discovered in this huge excavation.

To explain why the entire study of pottery fragments was entirely neglected in the excavations of Megiddo.  Particularly Loud kept registered and published complete or unique vessels (these originating mainly from tombs) as well as unique and decorated fragments. So broken pottery or vessels constitute the majority of the finds; the main chronological indicator in the excavation of an archaeological mount from the biblical period was hardly given proper attention. Therefore large, complete buildings are described in the excavation reports as if found devoid of pottery.

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arik-about

Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history. 

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