Jonathan N. Tubb (1951–2023): An Appreciation from a Friend and Colleague 

Konstantinos Politis

Jonathan Tubb at the site he directed in Jordan, Tell es-Sa’idiyeh. 1989. (Photo by Alan Hills.)

I recall first meeting Jonathan Tubb in 1982 after work hours at Peter Dorrell’s office at the Institute of Archaeology in London, where I was conducting my postgraduate studies. They were close friends who would regularly enjoy a drink or two after work reminiscing their excavations in Syria and Iraq. I and others, such as Peter Parr and Rupert Chapman, were often invited to join them. From that modest place, lifelong friendships grew.

In 1985, after having participated in two excavations in Jordan, I enthusiastically joined Jonathan’s first three of ten seasons of excavations at Tell es-Sa’idiyeh, Jordan, an event that would cement our academic and personal relationship. I had just completed my MA degree and was eagerly looking for a topic and unpublished material with which to do a PhD. Jonathan offered me all the Iron Age pottery excavated from this important site and trained me to identify it. Although I ended up not taking up this opportunity, his support was unwavering even when I chose a different theme.

Back in London at the British Museum, he kindly connected me with David Buckton, who helped me get sponsorship from that esteemed institution for my own new excavation project. This laid the foundation for my career, for which I am indebted to Jonathan. 

But I was not a lone recipient of Jonathan’s support and guidance. So many colleagues benefitted from his mentorship. He was always happy to share his knowledge, his thinking, and his connections with others. He created a following in the way Kathleen Kenyon did in the 1950s and 1960s of the archaeology of the Levant. In this tradition, he went on to be head of publications (1998–2000), chairman (2000–2008), and later president (2008–2023) of the Palestine Exploration Fund, in many ways transforming that old society into a modern, relevant institution. He also kept close relations with academia across the Atlantic, being conference programme chair for the American Society of Oriental Research during the 1990s. A measure of the esteem in which he was held can be seen in his festschrift, To Aleppo Gone (2023), which collected together more than forty contributions from his friends and colleagues, covering his diverse academic interests.

At the British Museum, Jonathan was a master of public relations while also conducting serious academic research. His major publications of his excavations at Tiwal ash-Shaqi (1990), the preliminary reports from his excavations at Tell es Sa’idiyeh, which appeared first in Levant and then in Palestine Exploration Quarterly from 1988 to 1997, Palestine in Bronze and Iron Ages (1985), Archaeology and the Bible (with R. L. Chapman, 1990), and Canaanites (1998, and a second edition in 2016), were a credit to him and his field alike. As curator for the Levant, he transformed the museum’s rather patchy collections from the region by acquiring the Institute of Archaeology’s Lachish collections and adding material from his own excavations at Tell es Sa’idiyeh and others from Jordan. These he used to create an entirely new Levant Gallery. Later, as keeper of the Middle East Department at the British Museum, he instigated and ran the “Iraq Scheme,” a collaborative project with Iraqi colleagues to counter the destruction of that country’s unique cultural heritage through years of war and instability by training a new generation of experts in all fields from surveying, excavation, and conservation to museology, librarianship, and public engagement. 

I was honored and pleased that Jonathan also continued the excavation project I had begun at the fort of Ra’s al-Hadd in Oman and therefore gave him my full support, as I could not join in person.

But Jonathan was not only a passionate archaeologist; he held a similar if not equal taste for classical music, ranging from Renaissance to contemporary classical music. Having “house-sat” while he was on holiday in the 1980s, I witnessed his vast collection of recordings. Rubbing shoulders among his CDs were composers as diverse as J. S. Bach, Gustav Mahler, Dmitri Shostakovich, Karl Heinz Stockhausen, and John Cage. His appreciation of music surfaced in places as diverse as during his excavations in Jordan and on several occasions when he visited me at home in Greece with his wife, Flick, and their daughter, Lily. 

I attended his funeral online, along with relatives, friends, and colleagues who did so in person, on 26 October 2023. All expressed the common sentiment that he will be dearly missed intellectually as well as in friendship.

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