Kathleen Kenyon

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Kathleen Kenyon : biography

05 January 1906 – 24 August 1978

Digging Jericho

During the Second World War, Kenyon served as Divisional Commander of the Red Cross in Hammersmith, London, and later as Acting Director and Secretary of the Institute of Archaeology of the University of London.

After the war, she excavated in Southwark, at The Wrekin, Shropshire and elsewhere in Britain, as well as at Sabratha, a Roman city in Libya. As a member of the Council of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (BSAJ), Kenyon was involved in the efforts to reopen the School after the hiatus of the Second World War. In January 1951 she travelled to the Transjordan and undertook excavations in the West Bank at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) on behalf of the BSAJ. Initial finding were first viewed by the public in the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain 1951 with a reconstruction drawing by Alan Sorrell. Her work at Jericho, from 1952 until 1958, made her world famous and established a lasting legacy in the archaeological methodology of the Levant. Ground-breaking discoveries concerning the Neolithic cultures of the Levant were made in this ancient settlement. Her excavation of the Early Bronze Age walled city and the external cemeteries of the end of the Early Bronze Age, together with her analysis of the stratified pottery of these periods established her as the leading authority on that period. Kenyon focused her attention on the absence of certain Cypriot pottery at City IV, arguing for an older destruction date than that of her predecessors. Jerico was recognized as the oldest continuously occupied settlement in history because of her discoveries. At the same time she also completed the publication of the excavations at Samaria. Her volume, Samaria Sebaste III: The Objects, appeared in 1957. Having completed her excavations at Jericho in 1958, Kenyon excavated in Jerusalem from 1961 to 1967, concentrating on the ‘City of David’ to the immediate south of the Temple Mount.

Although Kenyon had no doubt the sites she excavated were linked to the Old Testament narrative she nevertheless drew attention to inconsistencies, concluding that Solomon’s "stables" at Megiddo were totally impractical for holding horses (1978:72), and that Jericho fell long before Joshua’s arrival (1978:35). Consequently Kenyon’s work has been cited to support the Minimalist School of Biblical Archaeology.

Legacy

Kenyon’s legacy in the field of excavation technique and ceramic methodology is attested to by Larry G. Herr, one of the directors of the Madaba Plains Project. He attributes to her directly the first of the key events (after the advances made by William F. Albright at Tell Beit Mirsim in the 1920s) that brought about our modern understanding of pottery in the southern Levant:

"The first event was the refinement of stratigraphic techniques that Kathleen Kenyon’s dig at Jericho catalyzed. The strict separation of earth layers, or archaeological sediments, also allowed the strict separation of ceramic assemblages".Herr, Larry G. (2002), "W.F. Albright and the History of Pottery in Palestine", Near Eastern Archaeology 65.1 (2002), 53.

Herr detects Kenyon’s powerful indirect influence in the second event that promoted advance within ceramic methodology, namely:

"the importation of Kenyon’s digging techniques by Larry Toombs and Joe Callaway to Ernest Wright’s project at Balata. Here, they combined Wright’s interest in ceramic typology in the best Albright tradition with Kenyon’s methods of excavation, which allowed the isolation of clear, stratigraphically determined pottery assemblages".

Herr summarises the somewhat mixed nature of Kenyon’s legacy: for all the positive advances, there were also shortcomings:

"Kenyon… did not capitilize fully on (the) implication of her stratigraphic techniques by producing final publications promptly. Indeed her method of digging, which most of us have subsequently adopted, causes a proliferation of loci that excavators often have difficulty keeping straight long enough to produce coherent published stratigraphic syntheses. Moreover, her insistence that excavation proceed in narrow trenches denies us, when we use the Jericho reports, the confidence that her loci, and the pottery assemblages that go with them, represent understandable human activity patterns over coherently connected living areas. The individual layers, insufficiently exposed horizontally, simply cannot be interpreted credibly in terms of function. This further makes publication difficult, both to produce and to use".