From The Israel Department Of Antiquities To The Founding of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Yuval Baruch and Rachel Kudish Vashdi

During the War of Independence, with Jerusalem still under siege, archaeologists Drs. Emanuel Ben Dor and Benjamin Meisler (Mazar) were appointed archaeological officers in the Jerusalem Command. During the first cease-fire, a third officer, Dr. Shmuel Yeivin joined them. The Department of Antiquities of the State of Israel was founded on July 26, 1948, its activities based on British Mandate Antiquities ordinances. In 1978, the Mandate ordinances were superseded by the Law of Antiquities that was passed by the Knesset.


The small department was made part of the Public Works Department under the Ministry of Labor and Construction; in August 1955, it was transferred to the Ministry of Education and Culture. The department’s first director was Dr. Shmuel Yeivin, followed by Professor Avraham Biran (from 1961 to 1974), and Mr. Avraham Eitan (1974–1988). The previous director, Amir Drori (from 1988 to 2000) set in motion the conversion of the department into an independent government authority, finalized with the passage of a new law, The Antiquities Authority Law, on Sept. 1, 1989. The Law defined the duties and responsibilities of the new authority. In April 1990 the Israel Antiquities Authority came into existence, with Amir Drori as its director, and with the blessing and support of the Minister of Education at the time, Mr. Yitzhak Navon. The present director, Mr. Shuka Dorfman, took office in 2000.



The Dept. of Antiquities' first offices were located in the compound of the Public Works Department, on the Street of the Prophets(Hanevi'im Street) in Jerusalem. They were later moved to King Solomon Street, where they remained until the completion of the Israel Museum in 1965. Since the Six Day War in 1967, the offices of the Department of Antiquities/Antiquities Authority are located in the Rockefeller Museum building.



The original Department of Antiquities consisted of six units, responsible for (1) inspection, (2) conservation, (3) excavations and surveys, (4) museums, (5)archives and library, (6) research and publications. The Director and veteran archaeologist Dr. Shmuel Yeivin had a staff of eleven: Dr. Emanuel Ben-Dor who was Deputy-Director; British archaeologist P.L.O. Guy, former director of the Megiddo Excavations, was Director of Surveys; architect and researcher Jacob Pinkerfeld was head of Monuments Conservation and Chief Inspector; Michael Avi-Yonah served as Scientific Secretary and Antiquities Inspector in the Jerusalem District; Pinhas Penuel Kahane was Inspector of Local Museums; Jacob Ory was Inspector of Antiquities in the Southern District, Ruth Amiran was Inspector in the Northern District and Milka Cassuto headed the library. After becoming part of the Ministry of Education, technical support units and professional personnel were added to the department – photography, drafting, and pottery restoration units, laboratory workers, and physical anthropologists. Following the Six Day War, Archaeological Staff Office units for Judea, Samaria, Gaza, Sinai and the Golan Heights were established. In 1985, a unit for prevention of antiquities looting and a maritime unit were created.


During the mandate period (1917–1948) all documents pertaining to the archaeology of Eretz-Israel, including collections, files, maps and plans were concentrated in the offices of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities in the Rockefeller Museum building in Jerusalem. With the end of the British Mandate, all the archives remained in the hands of the Jordanian Government, and the Israeli authorities were forced to begin anew. After the Six Day War, the Rockefeller Museum with its archives returned to Israel’s authority.


Official declaration of antiquity sites was an important function of the Department of Antiquities. In 1964, Pinhas Penuel Kahana re-edited the Official Government Gazetteer, replacing the British Mandate Declarations File. Some 17,500 antiquities sites of the known 23,500 have, thus far, been published in The Israel Government Gazetteer. The sites appear in maps (scale 1:20,000) from north to south and from west to east. Sites appear with their Hebrew, Arabic and English transliteration, grid references and a short description.       


The Department of Antiquities under the aegis of the Ministry of Education and Culture conducted a number of significant excavations at Tel Dan, Tel Ashdod, ‘En Gedi, Hamat Gader, Bet She’an and Bet Govrin, and was involved in hundreds of rescue excavations, some in cooperation with the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University, or with the Israel Exploration Society. The first archaeological excavation in the State of Israel took place at Tell Qasile on the banks of the Yarkon River. It was directed by Benjamin Meizler (Mazar) on behalf of the Israel Exploration Society. Its excavation license was granted in October 1948 and signed by the Minister of Labor and Construction, Mordechai Bentov. In 1963, the Department of Antiquities began issuing permits for small-scale excavations to outside, as well as to its own archaeologists. The first permit was granted to Dr. Yohanan Aharoni on November 23, 1963, by the Director of the Department of Antiquities, Professor Abraham Biran, to excavate a burial cave at Horbat Darban, near Bar Giyyora. Since then, until now (9.12.2003), 8987 licenses and permits have been granted.


The Department of Antiquities conducted a number of major surveys – the Emergency Survey of Judea, Samaria and the Golan, directed by Prof. Moshe Kochavi on behalf of the Israel Exploration Society, which was undertaken in 1968 following the Six Day War, and the Emergency Survey of the Negev directed by Dr. Rudolph Cohen (1978–1988). The Archaeological Survey of Israel was founded in July 1964, with the purpose of conducting a comprehensive archaeological survey of Israel. Dr. Ze’ev Yeivin served as the first Secretary of the organization. Thirty-eight maps have already been published, covering about 25% of Israel’s area; another 55 maps are in various stages of preparation and editing.


The first publication of the Department of Antiquities was a departmental bulletin printed in February 1949, followed by ‘Atiqot in separate English and Hebrew series. The original bulletin was replaced by Hadashot Arkheologiyot, and its English version, Excavations and Surveys in Israel. After some years, ‘Atiqot became a bi-lingual publication (English and Hebrew) and Hadashot Arkheologiyot was combined with Excavations and Surveys into a single bi-lingual publication. Other publications include the maps of the Archaeological Survey of Israel, a series of monographs (IAA Reports) and guides to archaeological sites in Israel.


The original group of friends of the archaeological heritage was led by Shimon Nahmani. A major role of the Friends of Antiquities membership is assistance in documenting antiquity sites, participation in excavations and surveys, monitoring and increasing public awareness of the importance of protecting the archaeological heritage. In 1990, 300 ‘Friends’ were registered. A campaign to recruit additional members and increase activities has recently begun under the auspices of the Antiquities Authority.