Crystal-Margaret Bennett: Pioneering archaeologist in region remembered

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) AMMAN — A lecture recently held in London paid tribute to a pioneering archaeologist in the MENA region and the founder of the British Institute in Amman, Crystal-Margaret Bennett.

Bennett (1918-1987) was a member of a generation of 'formidable British female archaeologists in the Middle East', said Archie Walls, an architect specialised in Islamic architecture, adding that those female scholars were all 'big characters'.

Bennett was a disciple of another great British archaeologist of the Levant, Katleen Kanyon (1906-1978), and made lasting and deep friendships in the region. It was this, as well as the ability to  think about the future role of British archaeology in a changing Middle East led her to the founding of the British Institute, Walls told The Jordan Times in a recent e-mail interview.

'It was her many friendships with Jordanians and various British diplomats, plus the financial backing of friends in the UK,  enabled her to have a flat in the Alia Building, 1st Circle Jabal Amman, and use it as the headquarters of her own excavations and as the Amman office of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (BSAJ),' he wrote.

In 1975, Bennett established the British Institute in Amman, which was initially called the British Institute at Amman for Archaeology and History; and its patron until now is HRH Prince Hassan.

Bennett was a pioneer of archaeological research in Jordan and the region, studying both the Neolithic Period and Edomite sites in Petra in 1958, 1960 and 1963, noted Professor Bill Finlayson, who spoke on Wednesday at the 30th Crystal Bennett Memorial Lecture of the Council for British Research in the Levant at the Institute of Archaeology of of the University of London.

Bennett ensured that her excavations were well organised, remembered Walls, adding that she trained her staff well and instilled a sense of responsibility in each of them, as can be seen by the successes of her team in their later careers.

'I knew Crystal Bennett personally. I spent April, May and the first half of June 1973 at the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, working on my Edinburgh University PhD on mosaics in Asia Minor and the Levant,' said  Professor Claudine Dauphin, noting that as a member of the BSAJ, this was her base.

Furthermore, very few archaeologists came to Jerusalem during the period between the June War and the October War, as the political situation was unstable, Dauphin told The Jordan Times, noting that at times there were only the director, Bennett, architect Archie Walls, who was recording the Islamic monuments of Jerusalem, and herself.

'She had an incredible number of contacts, which she shared generously with researchers, often contacting senior academics by telephone to set up meetings between them and the younger scholars,' Dauphin remembered.

Prince Hassan took a notable interest in the Bennett excavations, and on various occasions his input played a significant role in the success of the projects, Kay Prag from The University of Manchester told The Jordan Times.

'In 1978, she conducted soundings at Dhra [west of Karak], and in 1980 soundings in Wadi Dana and Wadi Faynan, as well as a further season at Busayra in 1980 and at Tawilan in 1982. She was much involved in setting up the first of the great triennial conferences on the history and archaeology of Jordan, which was held in Oxford in 1980,' Prag reminisced, adding that these conferences still retain 'the spirit of friendship and international cooperation'.

Apart from the importance of her Jordan excavations in reconstructing Edomite history, Bennett, following in the footsteps of her mentor Kathleen Kenyon, 'attracted to Jordan British funding for research, and provided wages for teams of local workmen, who revered her for her humane qualities', according to Dauphin. 

'Crystal Bennett was a 'great lady of Near Eastern archaeology' in all senses of the word 'great',' Dauphin concluded.


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