I recently acquired a rather exciting postcard. Seriously. Wandering through the Ephemera Society fair with some archaeologist-chums, we came across a postcard stall with exquisitely categorised postcards – the cataloguer’s dream. Helpfully, there was an “Archaeology” section. Among endless images of late 19th/early 20th century Stonehenge and Avebury I found one postcard that set my geek-heart a-flutter.
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The Palestine Museum postcard. Photos: A. Thornton, 2014.
The Galilee Skull is currently considered to be 250,000-350,000 years old. It caused quite a sensation when it was found. Local excitement over the discovery was even captured in diaries of British residents in Palestine. The Palestine Post recorded that, in the event of the Museum being flooded with visitors to see the skull on display, access would be limited to 20 people at a time and a small entrance fee charged for afternoon visits.
Subsequently, the skull was sent to London for further examination. A “preparator” in the Natural History Museum's Geology Department, Frank Oswell Barlow, created a replica of the Galilee Skull that was to be displayed at the British Museum for the benefit of the British public. Casts of the skull were also made in London for use in other museums. By January 1926, the excavated Galilee Skull had been returned to Jerusalem where it was again put on special display in the Palestine Museum. It remained one of the Museum’s premier exhibits in the years that followed.
Francis Turville-Petre himself had published the two images featured on the postcard in his report on the Tabgha excavations in the BSAJ’s Bulletin No. 7 (1925), which was circulated to the School's subscribers. But in the postcard, it is clear that the Palestine Museum used the potential for marketing this find created. By turning the Galilee Skull photographs into a retail item the Museum made these images, and the BSAJ, potentially much more visible and accessible to the general public.
As with many things in life, the postcard raises more questions than gives answers – how many were printed, sold and sent, and what other finds made it to postcard form might be a starting point. What I’d also really like to know is how many personal archives of those tourists to or residents of Mandate Palestine might contain such ephemeral treasures?
Bar-Yosef, O. & Callendar, J. 1997. A Forgotten Archaeologist: The Life of Francis Turville-Petre. Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 129: 2-18.
Gibson, S. 1999. British Archaeological Institutions in Mandatory Palestine 1917-1948. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 131: 115–143.
Palestine Post. 1925. Palestine From Day to Day. Palestine Post [Online], 12 July. Historical Jewish Press.
Palestine Post. 1925. Earliest Man. Palestine Post [Online], 20 November. Historical Jewish Press.
Palestine Post. 1926. Palestine From Day to Day. Palestine Post [Online], 6 January. Historical Jewish Press.
St. Laurent, B. with Taşkömür, H. 2013. The Imperial Museum of Antiquities in Jerusalem, 1890-1930: An Alternate Narrative. Jerusalem Quarterly 55: 6-45.
Tubb, J. and Cobbing, F. 2005. The First Palestine Museum in Jerusalem. Mediterraneum, 5: 79-89.
Turville, Petre, F. Excavation of Two Palaeolithic Caves Near Tabgha – Preliminary Report. British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem Bulletin No. 7: 99-101 [Pl. IV].
 Beatrice St. Laurent has charted the history of the archaeological museum in Jerusalem between the 1890s and 1930, and gives dates for the "Palestine Museum" of between 1921 and 1930, after which the name became the "Palestine Archaeological Museum" (1930-1938). Illustrating her article are several photographs from the Israel Antiquities Authority's Mandate Archives showing the exterior and interior of the Palestine Museum in the early 1920s.
N. B. Those readers interested in Middle Eastern postcards may wish to read British Museum curator St. John Simpson's blogpost on the subject. Those readers curious about Frank Barlow and his work preparing casts for museums may be interested in related documents in the Natural History Museum's archive.