Focus on the Collection: Excavations in our Collections

Tucked away in a corner of the Hearst Gym Basement and symbolically overshadowed by the much larger California collection, the Hearst Museum has in its care thousands of objects from important prehistoric sites in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. These include places like La Madeleine and Laugerie Haute, Olduvai Gorge and Kalambo Falls, Petra and Mount Carmel just to name a few. In the last two years these important collections had been surveyed and re-housed to mitigate the effects of many years of service to generations of students and researchers. To that effect a teaching inventory was prepared in the early 1970s but a complete one was apparently never attempted. With the help of interns and volunteers we are now aiming at closing this gap and in these few lines I would like to introduce some of the most interesting assemblages we "excavated" in our storage.

The founder of the museum, Phoebe Hearst had a limited number of prehistoric objects in her personal collection and thus the Museum immediately looked to expand the sample through donations and exchanges with other institutions. Notable early accessions include the numerous paleolithic tools from Ethiopia donated by W.H. Seton-Karr and those from the California State Mining Bureau but for the early decades of the 20th century Old World assemblages were small and obtained rather expediently.  


Image (left): Hearst Museum # 9-1286 Acheuleo-Mousterian flint Palestine; Mt. Carmel region; Cave Tabun; Wady el-Mughara Collected by Dorothy A.E. Garrod, 1932-193

That situation started to change when in 1935, thanks to curator Theodore McCown the Museum acquired a sizable portion (about 1000 tools) of the stone assemblages excavated in the paleolithic caves on Mount Carmel (Israel) by Dorothy Garrod, the first female Archaeology professor at Cambridge. The excavation at Mount Carmel revealed the first Neanderthal burial in the Near East and a sequence of archaeological levels dating back to 500.000 years ago, one of the longest in the world.

Image (left): Hearst Museum # 5-1368 Chipped shell knife Kenya; Turkana District Collected by University of California African Expedition, 1

A personal interest of mine are African prehistoric collections and the Museum has an impressive collection. The University of California organized the African Expedition in 1948-1949. It was directed by Charles Camp and Frank Peabody and the multi-disciplinary team traveled from Morocco to the Republic of South Africa collecting a diverse range of materials that were then deposited in museums at Berkeley and other universities. PAHMA received the largest portion of the archaeological objects via the Department of Paleontology between 1949 and 1952. When Professor J. Desmond Clark arrived at Berkeley in 1961 he contributed assemblages from his research as well as from his students. During his tenure as curator the size of Old World collections greatly increased in size and scientific importance with samples from Olduvai Gorge, Kalambo Falls, Karkarinchikat, the Tagus Valley and Jerf Ayla.

If you'd like to read more about Old World (and other archaeological) collections, please visit my blog.  

Paolo Pellegatti, Research Archaeologist