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Excavating Palmyra. Harald Ingholt’s Excavation Diaries: A Transcript, Translation, and Commentary

New 2-volume set in the book series “Studies in Palmyrene Archaeology and History”, edited by Centre Director Professor Rubina Raja, Research Assistant Dr. Julia Steding, and Dr. Jean-Baptiste Yon.

Raja, R., Steding, J. & Yon, J.-B. (eds.) (2021). Excavating Palymyra. Harald Ingholt’s Excavation Diaries: A Transcript, Translation, and Commentary, Studies in Palmyrene Archaeology and History 4, 2 vols. Turnhout.

The first publication of Harald Ingholt’s excavation diaries from his fieldwork in Palmyra

In the 1920s and 30s, the Danish archaeologist Harald Ingholt excavated in the southwest necropolis of the oasis city Palmyra in the Syrian Desert. During his field campaigns, Ingholt documented the tombs and findings, uncovered by him and his team of local workers, in multiple excavation diaries, which he himself also edited over the years. In the 1980s, together with a large paper archive, he donated them to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. As part of the Palmyra Portrait Project, directed by Professor in Classical Archaeology and Centre Director Rubina Raja and funded by the Carlsberg Foundation from 2012-2020, the diaries were prepared for publication. The results of the research undertaken by the Palmyra Portrait Project has resulted in a new 2-volume set of books with transcripts, translations and extensive commentary of Ingholt’s diaries as well as a set of concordances. In total, five diaries were transcribed, translated and commented upon and published alongside the original scans of Ingholt’s diaries. Ingholt often switched languages, even within sentences, and his notes are thus, even though mainly in Danish, also in English and French. The reader is provided with a range of information about archaeological finds and their contexts as well as collection histories of several objects.

New knowledge about Palmyrene archaeology

The diaries add immense knowledge to what we have known about the graves in the southwest necropolis until now, including published and unpublished founder inscriptions, cession inscriptions, and funerary inscriptions. Furthermore, the diaries hold sketches and drawings of ground plans, descriptions of sarcophagi, reliefs, heads, and other findings, like glass and ceramic fragments. The inhabitants of modern Palmyra pointed out graves to Ingholt that he included in his research. Whenever available, references to comparative material or to publications on the pieces and graves were added as notes throughout the publication. Ingholt also included anecdotes about the workers and his own adventures in the city. Some days he would note down that visitors had arrived, and that he had to gives tours of the excavation site. Often, he mentions dinner parties, foods he was served, or other little episodes that took place during his day, for example if workers were in a fight with each other or if the child of a worker was attending the excavation, ‘working’ alongside the adults. Thus the diaries give rich insights into the daily life on an excavation during the early Mandate period in Syria.

Recontextualizing Palmyrene portraits

The publication, along with the scans, transcription, translation and commentary, also includes various photos of from Ingholt’s private archive taken during travels in the Near East, as well as pictures of graves, finds, and the daily work life at the excavations. Furthermore, several of his archive sheets today at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek were concorded with the excavation diaries (See Bobou, Miranda, Raja & Yon [forthcoming]). Through the work on the diaries, it was thus also possible to recontextualize multiple portraits and close some gaps between the diaries and Ingholt’s paper archive that he donated to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. The paper archive contains images and notes on objects as well as photographs of the interior of tombs that can now be matched with Ingholt’s records. The work on the archive took place within the framework of Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives funded by the ALIPH foundation and will be published later this year (Bobou, O., A. C. Miranda, R. Raja, and J.-B Yon [eds.] [forthcoming] The Ingholt Archive: The Palmyra Material, Archive Archaeology 1, Turnhout.).

The new publication of Ingholt’s diaries demonstrates the value and necessity to work with archival material and excavation notes, in order to bring forgotten knowledge to light and push the research forward in the future.

Full reference to new publication and further links

  • Raja, R., Steding, J. & Yon, J.-B. (eds.) (2021). Excavating Palmyra. Harald Ingholt’s Excavation Diaries: A Transcript, Translation, and Commentary, Studies in Palmyrene Archaeology and History 4, 2 vols. Turnhout. 
  • Read more about the new publication on Brepols Publishers' website here.
  • Read more about the new book series Studies in Palmyrene Archaeology and History here
  • Read more about the Palmyra Portrait Project here.
  • Read more about the Archive Archaeology project here.