The Leo Boer Archive and the Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs-project

Posted in: Archives Month, ASOR
Tags: amateur photographer, Archaeology, ASOR, Bart Wagemakers, Jerusalem, Leo Boer Archive, Netherlands, Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs-project, NPAPH, Rome
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By: Bart Wagemakers
University of Applied Sciences Utrecht

As an employee of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leyden, the Netherlands, I happened to meet the late Leo Boer on an ordinary day in 1999. It seems that Boer had studied for the priesthood at the Pontificial Biblical Institute at Rome in the mid-1950s. In the course of his studies, he had the opportunity to stay at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem for one year (1953-1954), where he concentrated on studying the Bible. During this year, Boer wrote a travel account and took about 700 photographs. Remarkably, he never thought about his account or his photographic material after he returned to Rome and, some years later, to the Netherlands.

The travel account
Boers account (140 pages) can be divided into the following sections: 

1. The journey from Rome to East Jerusalem: Boer describes very detailed the people he met during the journey and the discussion they had. Next to this, we have also the photographs he made of the sites he visited during the journey

2. The École Biblique and Jerusalem: his stay at the institute and in Jerusalem offered Boer the opportunity to meet well-known scholars and persons who were at the beginning of their promising academic careers (e.g. Roland de Vaux, Louis-Hughes Vincent, Józef Milik, Maurice Baillet, Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz. Boer had several conversations with late Frank Cross who had just been appointed as the ‘annual professor’ at the American School of Oriental Research from 1953-1954 and was its acting director at the same time. He met Kathleen Mary Kenyon twice at Tell es-Sultan where she was excavating at the time, and was guided across the Homo Carmelitanus at the Rockefeller Museum by Dorothy Garrod.

Despite the fact that Boer at the École Biblique was a student of Biblical Studies, he was expected to join de Vaux’s third expedition at Qumran from 20 to 27 March 1954, where he took this photograph.

Despite the fact that Boer at the École Biblique was a student of Biblical Studies, he was expected to join de Vaux’s third expedition at Qumran from 20 to 27 March 1954, where he took this photograph.

3. Historical and archaeological walks: unfortunately, Boer does not describe the walks to historical and archaeological locations in Jerusalem - organized by the École Bilbique - in his diary in great detail, but despite the fact that a comprehensive account is lacking, we do have the photographs which Boer took during his visits to these locations at our disposal.

4. Monthly Excursions: once a month, a voluntary daytrip was organised to archaeological sites in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem and Boer’s accounts of them are very detailed.

5. Journeys through Transjordan and Israel: during Boer’s stay at the École Biblique the institute organised two extended trips: one through Transjordan (18-29 October 1953) and one through Israel (26 April-13 May 1954). During these journeys they visited numerous archaeological sites. Boer’s accounts of the extended trips are - like the ones of the monthly excursions - very detailed too.

The photo collection

In addition, Boer took a considerable number of photographs, about 700. The films were not developed until recently. He put the films in a box stored in a garage for almost 55 years. Amazingly enough, the quality of the photographs is stupendously good. The photo collection can be divided into the following categories:

1) Landscapes

2) Panorama with cities and villages

3) Rural life

4) City life

5) Religious locations

6) Archaeological sites (he took photos of archaeological sites that he visited during the historical and archaeological walks, the monthly excursions and the journeys through Israel and Transjordan)

A corner of Saul’s building in Tell el-Ful. About 10 years after Boer took this photograph, King Hussein of Transjordan decided to build a palace on top of this tell. This building project came to a standstill due to the Six-Day War in 1967.

A corner of Saul’s building in Tell el-Ful. About 10 years after Boer took this photograph, King Hussein of Transjordan decided to build a palace on top of this tell. This building project came to a standstill due to the Six-Day War in 1967.

The significance of the document for archaeologists

First of all, as Boer stayed at the École Biblique he was able to visit many archaeological sites accompanied by members of this institute, at a time when Palestinian archaeology was at the beginning of a new phase. After World War II and the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, a new generation of archaeologists, approaches and methods came into being in Palestinian archaeology. By visiting numerous archaeological sites Leo Boer witnessed the results of these new approaches. In that sense his account and photographs give an interesting overview of the  state-of-the-art archaeological techniques of that time.

Secondly, the photo collection might show aspects or details of sites that had not been recorded (sufficiently enough) by the professional staff at the time. This can be demonstrated by several photographs from Boer’s collection as I did during my paper presentation.

[button color=”orange” link=”http://youtu.be/qFM-9cNHSFM” size=”medium” font=”helvetica” textcolor=”#2B1B17″ align=”center”]Click here to see Bart’s presentation![/button]

Accessible to the public

In order to bring Boer’s documentation into reach of all interested parties, two projects have been set up. First of all, his photographs and account were the inspiration for twenty scholars to report on what we know today of nine particular sites chosen from the many sites Leo Boer visited in the Levant sixty years ago. Among them are Jerusalem, Sebaste, Khirbet et-Tell, Khirbet Qumran, Caesarea, Megiddo and Bet She’an. With the help of Boer’s photographs and accounts, the scholars describe the history of the archaeological expeditions at these sites and answer questions such as: Who have excavated these sites over the years? What were the specific aims of these campaigns? What were the techniques and methods they used? How did they interpret these excavations? What were the most noteworthy finds? And finally, what misconceptions did the former excavators have? This archaeological historiography, entitled  Archaeology in the ‘Land of Tells and Ruins’, completed with several current archaeological themes, will be published by Oxbow Books this month.

Since the entire photo collection is significant for the study of the (archaeological) history of this region and because the volume contains a mere 70 of about 700 photographs that Boer took during his stay in the Levant, it was decided to make all the photographs accessible to the public, not just the ones selected for the forthcoming volume. This is why a second project was set up: the foundation of the digital Leo Boer Archive. In the database of this archive, which is hosted by the server of The American Schools of Oriental Research, you can browse through the photographs by category and by keywords.

[button color=”orange” link=”https://vimeo.com/80152552″ size=”medium” font=”helvetica” textcolor=”#2B1B17″ align=”center”]Click here to see the NPAPH trailer![/button]

The Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs-project 

The significance of the photo collection of this former student was the source of inspiration for a new project: the Non-Professional Archaeological Photographs-project (NPAPH). The project aims to trace non-professionals or their heirs, who joined or visited an archaeological campaign prior the 1980s, to collect and digitize their photographic documentation and, finally, to make it accessible to the public via digital photo archives. The term ‘non-professional’ refers here to participants of excavations who were not part of the trained staff, but who assisted as part of their continuing education or out of interest, for instance students, volunteers, reporters, and sponsors.

Area team of Field XIII, Shechem, at work in 1968. This photograph was donated to the NPAPH-project by Dan P. Cole.

Why was the NPAPH-project initiated?

As the discipline of archaeology has developed significantly during the last six decades, it is inevitable that the views on how the progress and finds of an excavation should be recorded have changed as well. All the developments that have influenced archaeological photography suggest that there may be a hiatus between what archaeologists actually recorded in the past and what we nowadays expect them to have documented at the time. It has just been demonstrated that former non-professionals (like the former student Leo Boer) may well turn out to be those who are able to fill the gaps found in the official documentation published by academic staff.

Non-professionals tended to show an interest in all the divergent aspects of the site. Usually they recorded as much as possible and simply anything they were intrigued by, as best as they could – even if staff decided that particular features did not need to be examined. It means that, besides the official photographs taken by, or ordered by, the professional staff of the excavation, there must also be ‘unofficial’ documentation. Unlike official photographs, which can be consulted in published reports or archives, the neglected ones taken by non-professionals are generally not accessible to the public. For this reason the NPAPH-project was started.

Current Situation

Despite the fact that the project has only recently been started, several reputed archaeological institutions and departments have already shown their support in this new initiative and are co-operating with the project’s research team in order to find non-professional documentation of their excavations. We welcome other institutions or individuals who conducted excavations prior the 1980s and who are interested in tracing and digitizing non-professional photographic documentation to contact the NPAPH-project organization.

It will be useful for current archaeological research to trace non-professional photographs of the past, and to digitize and place them in accessible digital archives for both scholars and the general public. However, this can only be achieved with support from the archaeological world. So please check our website and join and share our Facebook page and Twitter, because it would make the tracing of former non-professionals easier. It will be worth the effort!


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