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Kenyon, Kathleen Mary

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East What is This? Provides comprehensive coverage of the history and scope of archaeology in the Near East.

Kenyon, Kathleen Mary


archaeologist born in London,

the elder daughter of Frederic Kenyon the papyrologist and director and principal librarian of the British Museum (1909–1930). Kathleen M. Kenyon was educated at St. Paul's Girls' School in London and at Somerville College, Oxford, where she specialized in history. She became a member of the Oxford Archaeological Society and was its first woman president. She was a good student and a fine athlete, with the energy and drive to make her a natural leader.

On graduation in 1929 she accompanied Gertrude Caton-Thompson (who had been a student and colleague of William Flinders Petrie) as general assistant, photographer, and driver, to excavate the stone ruins of Zimbabwe, in what was then Southern Rhodesia. Upon her return to England, she was recruited by R. E. Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa to participate in a major excavation (1930–1936) of the Romano-British city of Verulamium (St. Albans).

From the Wheelers Kenyon learned the principles and techniques of the new stratigraphic method they had been developing since before World War I. It involves excavation by trenches, or squares, and very careful observation, interpretation, and recording (as excavation proceeds) of the soil strata encountered (distinguished by color, texture, and composition). When the vertical faces of the trenches and of balks running up to them are recorded and drawn to scale, it is possible to plot, in three dimensions, the stratigraphic positions and relationships of all structures and finds, and to assign relative dates to them. Absolute dates could be assigned on the basis of the pottery or coins contained in the pertinent strata. When the carbon-14 method of dating became available, the remanent radioactivity in preserved organic materials such as bone or wood could provide absolute dates. Although the method requires meticulous technique, the evidence for the conclusions educed is preserved for all to see and, if necessary, to reassess. Kenyon, who describes this method in Beginning in Archaeology (1952), introduced it to the Near East during her work with John W. Crowfoot at Samaria (1931–1933).

Back in England she was closely associated with Wheeler in the founding of the University of London Institute of Archaeology (1934). Before and after World War II (during which she served with the Red Cross) she worked at British sites. From 1948 to 1951, she joined John Ward-Perkins, director of the British School in Rome, in excavations at Sabratha in Tripolitania. Soundings into the essentially Romano-Byzantine city reached important Phoenician levels.

In 1951, Miss Kenyon became honorary director of the British School in Jerusalem. John Garstang had made important discoveries at Jericho (1931–1936) but raised problems requiring further investigation. Kenyon's excavations there (1952–1958) made Jericho the type-site in Palestine for the application of the Wheeler-Kenyon stratigraphic method.

In 1961 Kenyon began what would be seven years of excavation in Jerusalem. The site was an exceedingly difficult one because of its topography (its steeply sloped terrain), its history (the accumulated debris of centuries), and its being a living city (with its houses and roads in daily use). She was able to establish for the first time a historic framework for the city over its 3,800 years of existence.

In 1962 Kenyon became principal of St. Hugh's College, Oxford. When she retired in 1973, after a tenure of great practical and creative advantage to the college, she was able to concentrate on publication. Her detailed annual reports in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly during her excavations of Jericho and Jerusalem were supplemented by popular (but by no means superficial) general works. Of the definitive publications on Jericho, only two volumes of her Excavations at Jericho (1960, 1965) were released before her untimely death. However, she left much virtually completed work, which was subsequently edited and, where incomplete, augmented as volumes 3–5 (1981–1983). Since her death, three volumes on the Jerusalem expedition have been published (vols. 1, 2, and 4; 1985, 1990, and 1995). Kenyon made important contributions to the new (third) edition of the Cambridge Ancient History. While archaeological data were the chief sources for these works, in them and in her Amorites and Canaanites (1966), she attempted to relate the cultural, social, and political conditions reflected in written as well as archaeological documentation. The fourth and much-revised edition of her Archaeology in the Holy Land (1960) appeared, posthumously, in 1979.

Kathleen M. Kenyon is not only remembered for her dynamic and imaginative leadership in the field and the significance of her discoveries, but for the encouragement and training she devoted to scores of young students who, in turn, have made their reputations in archaeology all over the world. Her accomplishments led to many academic and international honors but the appreciation of her own country was marked most vividly by the DBE (Dame of the Order of the British Empire) conferred on her by Queen Elizabeth II in 1973.

[See also British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem; Jericho; Jerusalem; Samaria; and the biographies of Caton-Thompson, Crowfoot, Garstang, and Wheeler.]


  • Crowfoot, John W., Kathleen M. Kenyon, and Eleazar L. Sukenik. The Buildings at Samaria. Samaria-Sebaste: Report of the Work of the Joint Expedition in 1931–1933 and of the Work of the British Expedition in 1935, no. 1. London, 1942.
  • Crowfoot, John W., Grace M. Crowfoot, and Kathleen M. Kenyon. The Objects from Samaria. Samaria-Sebaste: Report of the Work of the Joint Expedition in 1931–1933 and of the Work of the British Expedition in 1935, no. 3. London, 1957.
  • Franken, H. J., and Margaret L. Steiner. Excavations in Jerusalem, 1961–1967, vol. 2, The Iron Age Extramural Quarter on the South-East Hill. Oxford, 1990.
  • Kenrick, Philip M. Excavations at Sabratha, 1948–1951: Report on the Excavations Conducted by Dame Kathleen Kenyon and John Ward-Perkins. London, 1986.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. “Notes on the History of Jericho in the 2nd Millennium B.C.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1951): 101–138.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. “Excavations at Jericho.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1952): 4–6, 62–82; (1954): 45–63; (1955): 108–117; and (1960): 88–108.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Beginning in Archaeology. London, 1953.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Digging Up Jericho. London, 1957.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Archaeology in the Holy Land (1960). 4th ed. New York, 1979.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 1, The Tombs Excavated in 1952–54. London, 1960.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. “Excavations in Jerusalem.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1962): 72–89; (1963): 7–21; (1965): 9–20; (1966): 73–88; (1967): 65–73; and (1968): 97–111.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 2, The Tombs Excavated in 1955–58. London, 1965.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Amorites and Canaanites. London, 1966.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Jerusalem: Excavating 3000 Years of History. New York, 1967.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Digging Up Jerusalem. London, 1974.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 3, The Architecture and Stratigraphy of the Tell. 2 vols. Edited by Thomas A. Holland. London, 1981.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M., and Thomas A. Holland. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 4, The Pottery Type Series and Other Finds. London, 1982.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M., and Thomas A. Holland. Excavations at Jericho, vol. 5, The Pottery Phases of the Tell and Other Finds. London, 1983.
  • Kenyon, Kathleen M. The Bible and Recent Archaeology. Revised by P. R. S. Moorey. London, 1987.
  • Moorey, P. R. S. A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Cambridge, 1991. See pages 63, 94–99, 122–126.
  • Moorey, P. R. S. “British Women in Near Eastern Archaeology: Kathleen Kenyon and the Pioneers.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1992): 91–100.
  • Prag, Kay. “Kathleen Kenyon and Archaeology in the Holy Land.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1992): 109–123.
  • Tushingham, A. D., et al. Excavations in Jerusalem, 1961–1967. Vol. 1. Toronto, 1985.
  • Tushingham, A. D. “Kathleen Kenyon.” Proceedings of the British Academy 71 (1985): 555–582.
  • Wilkes, John. “Kathleen Kenyon in Roman Britain.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1992): 101–108.

A. D. Tushingham

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