About the Institute

The Institute was founded in 1934 as the Department of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1967 it became the Institute of Archaeology. Today the Institute is an independent research and teaching unit within the Faculty of Humanities, with a staff that provides administrative and scientific assistance as well as the technical facilities necessary to carry out its research projects. Academic programs include studies for B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in prehistoric, biblical, and classical archaeology, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East and Computational Archaeology

Since its creation as the Department of Archaeology, the Institute has been involved in many major archaeological endeavors and interdisciplinary research programs in addition to its role as a teaching and training institution. Excavations at major prehistoric and historic sites have shaped many of the current paradigms in Israeli archaeology and contributed to a better understanding of past human behavior.Many of the excavations conducted by Institute members are reported and published in the Institute's Qedem series.


The department was housed in Mt. Scopus until 1948, when it moved to the new campus in Giv‘at Ram and to a building donated by the Belgian Friends of the Hebrew University and named in honor of Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. After the 1967 war the department moved back to its original building on Mt. Scopus, and became the Institute of Archaeology. A generous donation by the Carasso family enabled the research wing to be rebuilt and expanded to accommodate its growing collection of antiquities and increasing research activities. With an additional donation by the Belgian Friends of the Hebrew University, the teaching wing was rebuilt and named in honor of Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. This wing also contains the Institute’s newly renovated Emery and Claire Yass library and slide collection.

The Institute offers to its researchers as well as to external scholars conservation and photography services. Both laboratories have recently been refurbished and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities.


Institute's History

Teaching and research activities in the field of archaeology began at the Hebrew University in 1926, shortly after its foundation. The university’s Department of Archaeology, opened in 1934, is the oldest archaeology department in Israel . The collections of the department were housed in The Museum of Jewish Antiquities, founded thanks to the donation of G.M. Kootcher of South Africa and completed in 1941, and this is also where teaching and research took place.

For more than 30 years since its opening, until the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University was founded in the late 1960s, the Department of Archaeology of the Hebrew University was the only institution in the country in which teaching and research in archaeology took place. Consequently, this is the birthplace of Israeli archaeology. The first teachers were E.L. Sukenik (ancient synagogues, the Dead Sea scrolls) and E.L. Mayer (Islamic archaeology). In the following years they were joined by N. Avigad (archaeology of the First and Second Temple periods), M. Avi-Yonah (classical archaeology), Y. Aharoni (archaeology and historical geography), M. Stekelis (prehistoric archaeology) and Y. Yadin (archaeology of Israel and the ancient Near East). These are indeed the founding fathers of Israeli archaeology: anyone currently active in the field in this country is a first- or second-generation student of these scholars.

N. Avigad; E.L. Mayer; M. Stekelis; E.L. Sukenik; N. Avigad, R. Amiran and Y. YadinN. Avigad; E.L. Mayer; M. Stekelis; E.L. Sukenik; N. Avigad, R. Amiran and Y. Yadin

As a result of the War of Independence, when Mount Scopus was cut off from the rest of Jerusalem, the Department of Archaeology was transferred to the center of the city, and from the late fifties it continued its activities at the Giv‘at Ram campus. The building housing what was by then the Institute of Archaeology , named after Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, was founded thanks to donations from the Belgian Friends of the Hebrew University.

After the Six-Day War, the Institute of Archaeology was one of the first departments to return to Mount Scopus. The Museum of Jewish Antiquities was enlarged and restored, thanks to the support of the Carasso family, and was designated as the research wing of the Institute. An additional wing, in which all teaching activity takes place, was added to the building, once again thanks to the generous help of the Belgian Friends of the Hebrew University, and bears the name of Queen Elizabeth of Belgium.

Excavating at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, 1930s | Opening of the Institute with Queen Elizabeth of BelgiumExcavating at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, 1930s | Opening of the Institute with Queen Elizabeth of Belgium

Archaeological excavations constitute a major aspect of the Institute’s research activity. Many of the most significant excavations carried out in this country were conducted by the Institute, the majority of them in collaboration with the Israel Exploration Society, with which our Institute maintains a close relationship. Among the better-known sites excavated are Akhziv, Amud Cave, Avdat, classical and biblical Beth Shean, Beth Shearim, Caesarea, Deir el-Balah, Dor, Elusa, En-Gedi, Hammat Gader, Herodium, Hayonim Cave, Hazor, Jericho (Second Temple period), Jerusalem (Temple Mount, Upper City and City of David), the expedition to the caves of the Judean Desert, Gesher Benot Ya'aqov, Kebara Cave, Kefar HaHoresh, Mamshit, Masada, Megiddo, Miqne-Ekron, Qafzeh Cave, Quneitra, Ramat Hanadiv, Rehovot-in-the-Negev, Sha‘ar Hagolan, Sepphoris, Tel Batash, Tel Mevorakh, Tell Qasile, Tel Rehov, Tel Qashish, Tiberias, Ubeidiya, and Yoqne‘am.

A number of excavations abroad, ranging from the Paleolithic to the classical period, have involved members of the Institute. Among these are excavations of very early Paleolithic sites in Hadar in northern Ethiopia and the Middle Paleolithic Dzouzouana Cave in the Republic of Georgia, excavations in the Late Bronze Age site of Athienou in Cyprus, and the excavation of a synagogue at Saranda in Albania.


The Building

The building occupied by the Institute of Archaeology on Mt. Scopus was constructed in three stages. The first part of the structure was built in 1936 and was used until the War of Independence as a students' club. The second stage, built onto the club a few years later, was the Museum of Jewish Antiquities. From the War of Independence onward the two buildings were unoccupied, until the return of the university to Mt. Scopus after the Six Days’ War of 1967. The two existing structures, which were adapted for their new role, were joined by a new building assigned primarily to teaching and intended to unite the three elements into one homogeneous unit.

The students' club was built by the celebrated Jewish architect Erich Mendelson. It is a rectangular structure with a simple terrace at its western end, from which at that time there was a view of Jerusalem. In agreement with Mendelson’s principles, the structure was adapted to the topographical conditions and blended in with its natural surroundings. Accordingly, the structure had a varying number of stories, two on the south and west and only one on the north and east, from which there were openings onto the square to the north.

While the building served as a students’ club, its ground floor contained a reading room, a smoking room, a teachers' room, a kitchen and lavatories. On the upper floor were a large hall opening onto the terrace, another teachers' room and a students' room. In the ceiling of the hall Mendelson left the joists exposed, to create a rhythmic tempo and a spacious feeling.

The Museum building on Mount Scopus upon the completion of construction (1941). The Hebrew University Photo Archives.

The Museum of Jewish Antiquities, as one can read to this day in copper letters on the stone wall near the entrance, was built on the initiative of Prof. Elazar Lipa Sukenik and named after Gdalya (Morris) Kutcher. It was built in order to “assemble within it all the different remains of the Jewish past, both from Eretz Israel and from the ancient lands of the Diaspora”, as Sukenik wrote in the monthly journal of the Association of Engineers and Architects.

Construction of the building was preceded by a competition between architects, whose results were announced in December 1939. The judges were the architect Erich Mendelson (who spent these years in Jerusalem, preparing the overall plan of the University and designing, among others, the Hadassah University Medical Center ), the architect Alexander Klein, and Zalman Schocken. The conditions of the competition explicitly stated that the main body of the museum was to be a continuation of the students’ club and linked with it architecturally. The winners of the competition were the architects Karl Rubin and J. Yavecz. Since both of these architects were closely associated with Erich Mendelson, the style of their design harmonized with the student’s club building and complemented it. The museum was inaugurated on 11 December 1941.

The Museum of Jewish Antiquities contains two floors and is entered from the east, from the direction of the road that at that time ran along the watershed of the mountain. The entrance is via a courtyard covered by a pergola formed from stone pillars; the courtyard was intended for the exhibition of archaeological artifacts. The building is preserved in its original state, apart from some internal changes and a few additions.

The Student Club and the Museum building, view from the south (1940's). The Hebrew University Photo Archives (Photo Alfred Bernh

These two buildings were among the first on Mt. Scopus to be returned to use after the Six Days’ War, when in 1970 the Institute of Archaeology relinquished its fine building on the Givat Ram campus and returned to Mt. Scopus.   The two existing buildings were assigned to the research activities of the Institute, and for its teaching needs the design of a new wing, to the east of the existing buildings, was commissioned from the Tel Aviv architect Yitzhak Yashar, one of the most distinguished architects active in Israel at that time. The new building has four stories graded in accordance with the topography and has terraces on the west, like the students’ club. In the original plan, the basement level holds laboratories, the ground floor with the south-facing entrance contains lecture halls, the intermediate floor houses the library, seminar rooms and slide archive, and the top floor contains teachers’ and administrative offices.

The new wing was inaugurated in 1972. It differs in style from the two older wings, being constructed from sawn stone rather than dressed Jerusalem stone. It is distinguished by projecting elements connected with some of the structure’s windows. In the entire exterior, there is harmony between the three wings, though this is not expressed in their interior organization.

In 2003, changes were made in the “new” wing that involved the doubling in size of the Institute’s library (partly at the expense of one of the terraces) and the extension of the top floor to include the slide archive. The changes were carried out by architects Gavriel Kertesz and Aviva Silbert.

The façade of the Museum for Jewish Antiquities (1941). The Hebrew  University Photo Archives.