Founded on 12 May 1865, at a meeting held in the Jerusalem Chamber of Westminster Abbey, the Palestine Exploration Fund was the brainchild of George Grove, then manager of the Crystal Palace. Grove's interest in the fund was sparked by the work he had done on biblical place names for George Adam Smith's Dictionary of the Bible. It and the Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem appeared In 1864, raising public interest in the subject sufficiently for a society dedicated to studying the land of the Bible to succeed. This interest was heightened by Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, published In 1859, and by the text-critical work of the German school of biblical scholars led by Julius Wellhausen in Tübingen: it was felt necessary to buttress the historicity of the Hebrew Bible.

The fund's initial effort was to provide a proper survey and an accurate map of Palestine, as a basis for studying its archaeology (in the broadest sense). In 1865 Charles Wilson of the Royal Engineers carried out a preliminary survey for the fund. The substantial cost and difficulties involved in a full-scale survey were daunting. The fund decided instead to continue the work of exploring Jerusalem, concentrating on the problem of the location of Herod's Temple—a project chosen to raise the profile of the fund and attract the monies necessary for the larger project. Accordingly, from 1867 to 1871 Charles Warren explored “underground Jerusalem” by means of a series of tunnels around the Temple Mount (Ḥaram esh-Sharif). [See Jerusalem.] His work revealed for the first time the massive scale of the construction undertaken by Herod and greatly advanced what was known of the location of the Temple. By 1869 the quantity of material resulting from the fund's projects required the regular publication of a journal, the Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (PEFQ), the first journal specifically devoted to the study of the region.

By late 1871, the fund had enough money to engage a team of Royal Engineers to survey and map Palestine. The team's initial leader, R. W. Stewart, was sent home within a month of his arrival, a victim of “fever,” probably malaria, which was to take the lives of several members of the survey party. He was replaced by Claude R. Conder, who arrived in July 1872 and led the survey until July 1875, when he was injured in an attack at Safed. He had been joined In 1874 by Herbert Horatio Kitchener, who was also injured in the attack. The survey was suspended until 1877, when it was resumed under Kitchener's command. It was completed in September of that year; the map was published In 1880 and the text volumes In 1881–1884. In 1881–1882 the American Palestine Exploration Society attempted to do a similar survey east of the Jordan River, but with the society's demise the work was left incomplete. The fund's attempt was cut short, after more than 800 sq km (500 sq. mi.) of central Jordan had been surveyed, as a result of the opposition of the Ottoman governor of es-Salt. Between 1885 and 1889, Gottlieb Schumacher surveyed the area of Transjordan between Amman and the Syrian border for the fund, while surveying the line of the Hejaz Railway for the Ottoman government. In 1883–1884, an expedition led by Edward Hull, assisted by Kitchener, carried out a geological survey of Wadi ῾Arabah. This expedition concluded the first phase of the fund's activities—the mapping and survey of the land.

The next phase began with the first excavation carried out in Palestine by a professional archaeologist, W. M. F. Petrie, who chose Tell el-Ḥesi, believed then to be ancient Lachish. [See Ḥesi, Tell el-; Lachish.] Petrie spent six weeks on the site, during which time he laid the foundations for a stratigraphic excavation and established the outlines of the site's ceramic sequence as the basic means of dating the archaeological remains. Although Heinrich Schliemann's work at Troy had already shown that the tells that dotted the Near East were formed by continuous human settlement, this was the first time it was being demonstrated in the Levant. Petrie's use of pottery for dating purposes was at first opposed, notably by Conder, but soon became widely accepted. When Petrie expressed a desire to return to his beloved Egypt, the fund found a replacement in a young American, Frederick Jones Bliss, son of Daniel Bliss, who had founded what was to become the American University of Beirut. Bliss excavated at Ḥesi until the end of 1893.

The fund's international character was reinforced in this period by employing Charles Clermont-Ganneau, a French diplomat and antiquarian who had studied the antiquities of the country in connection with the 1873–1874 survey, and Conrad Schick, a German architect who had originally gone to Jerusalem as a missionary In 1846. Schick maintained a close connection with the fund from its inception until his death In 1901, during which time he carried out extensive research in Jerusalem. From 1894 to 1897, the fund again turned its attention to Jerusalem, and excavations were carried out in a number of areas by Bliss, assisted by the architect A. C. Dickie. Between 1898 and 1900, excavations directed by Bliss, assisted by R. A. S. Macalister, were carried out at four sites in the Shephelah: Tell Zakariya (῾Azekah), Tell eṣ-Ṣafi (Gath?), Tell el-Judeideh (Moreshet-Gath), and Tell eṣ-Ṣandaḥanna/Mareshah (Marisa). [See ῾Azekah; Judeideh, Tell el-; Mareshah.] From 1902 to 1905 and 1907 to 1909, the fund carried out its largest excavation, at Tell el-Jezer (Gezer), under Macalister's direction. [See Gezer.] The large-scale and prompt publication of these excavations should have made them the cornerstone of future work in the area; however, Macalister's decision to publish the material by stratum/period, without any indication of findspot, and his crude stratigraphy made his report difficult to use. The fund's final excavation prior to World War I, which brought a halt to archaeology in the field, was In 1911–1912 at ῾Ain Shems (Beth-Shemesh), directed by Duncan Mackenzie, assisted by F: G. Newton, an architect. [See Beth-Shemesh.] The fund then began to publish a series of annuals, of which only six volumes appeared. In spring 1914, with war looming, Kitchener asked the fund to survey the Negev desert, the last unmapped area in western Palestine. [See Negev.] A team of Royal Engineers commanded by S. F. Newcombe, carried out the mapping. The fund had chosen the distinguished Egyptologist T. E. Peet to carry out the archaeological survey, but Peet had a prior commitment. The fund turned to the director of the British Museum, Frederick Kenyon, who, in turn, obtained the services of two young archaeologists then excavating at Carchemish for the museum, C. Leonard Woolley and T. E. Lawrence. The resulting map was completed in the first year of the war and released for publication In 1921; the archaeological survey results were published In 1915.

The establishment of the British Mandate in Palestine created a new situation. A Mandatory Department of Antiquities was created and In 1918 the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem was established. A number of other organizations also operating in the field included the American Schools of Oriental Research, the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, and the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society. The fund renewed its own excavations in Jerusalem from 1923 to 1925, directed by Macalister, assisted by J. Garrow Duncan, and from 1925 to 1927, directed by Crowfoot, assisted by G. M. Fitzgerald. In 1934 Alan Rowe carried out a brief excavation at Gezer for the fund, intended to clarify the site's stratigraphy. Unfortunately, the stratigraphy in the area chosen for excavation was so shallow the promised final report never appeared. The fund's last major excavation, at Samaria/Sebaste (1931–1935), was a joint project with Harvard University, the British Academy, the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. [See Samaria.] The excavations revealed remains from the tenth century BCE, prior to the foundation of the royal citadel, and from the occupation following the move to the site by Omri in about 880 BCE. An important area of the Hellenistic and Roman city was excavated and the stratified sequence of terra sigillata ware became important for the study of the archaeology of the Roman Empire in regions as far away as Scotland.

The period following World War II was a difficult one for the fund. The last of the generation of the founders and their immediate successors was gone, and public interest in biblical matters—and the funds available for them—had greatly diminished. The fund did, however, continue to publish its journal, now known as the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (PEQ), hold lectures, and give some limited financial support to promote research. In 1989 the fund resumed the publication of monographs.

[See also American Palestine Exploration Society; British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem; École Biblique et Archéologique Française; Israel Exploration Society; Nationalism and Archaeology; and the biographies of Bliss, Conder, Clermont-Ganneau, Crowfoot, Kitchener, Lawrence, Macalister, Petrie, Rowe, Schumacher, Schick, Smith, Warren, Wilson, and Woolley.]


  • Bartlett, John R. Edom and the Edomites. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement 77. Sheffield, 1989.
  • Condor, Claude R., and Horatio H. Kitchener. Survey of Western Palestine. 8 vols. and cased map. London, 1881–1888. Of the many publications (surveys and excavations reports) sponsored by the PEF, this is perhaps the best known.
  • Hodson, Yolande. “The Palestine Exploration Fund: Recollections of the Past.” In Biblical Archaeology Today 1990, edited by Avraham Biran et al., pp. 6–8. Jerusalem, 1993.
  • Lipman, V. D. “The Origins of the Palestine Exploration Fund.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 120 (1988): 45–54. Includes extensive notes and bibliography.
  • Palestine Exploration Fund Annual. London, 1911–1927. Five volumes, issued irregularly.
  • Palestine Exploration Fund Pamphlets. London, 1878. Covers various subjects; includes proceedings and announcements of early publications.
  • Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement (1869–1936); continued from 1937 as Palestine Exploration Quarterly.

Rupert Chapman