The humble postcard is, I'm happy to say, becoming something of a 'heritage' research field. My colleague Jamie Larkin has explored the history of postcard sales at museums and heritage sites in the UK while Elizabeth Edwards has been researching photography, postcards and heritage sites.
I've blogged about the history behind the production of postcards relating to specific excavations – namely, the postcard produced in the 1920s by the Palestine Museum (now Rockefeller Museum), showing the Galilee Skull, discovered in 1925 during an excavation near the Sea of Galilee by students at the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem. In the same period, the Transjordan Department of Antiquities produced a postcard showing part of one of the key sites in the country – the remains of a Roman city at Jerash. One of these postcards (hand annotated) is found in the Horsfield collection at UCL.
The British Museum from the early part of the 20th century produced a series of postcards of objects in their collection, collaborating in the production of these with Oxford University Press.
But the British Museum's collection also incorporates relevant externally produced postcards. In the Middle East Department's ephemera collection are a series of five postcards showing images of inscribed ostraca known collectively as the Lachish Letters (EPH-ME.1562, EPH-ME.1563, EPH-ME.1564, EPH-ME.1565, EPH-ME.1566).*
According to the information provided in the BM's collection metadata, these postcards were created around 1935. The production date is significant because the Letters were discovered during the 1934-35 season at Tell Duweir, so the postcards would have been made in quick-time – probably, I suspect, so that they could be sold at the end-of-season exhibition in July 1935.
I hope more of these ephemeral artefacts will come to light – they are a potent reminder that discoveries made did not always go straight onto the shelves of museum storage or display case and that the ubiquitous postcard is also part of the history of archaeology.
* A selection of the artefact Letters is on display in Room 57 in the British Museum.