Rehoming Flinders Petrie’s “Homeless Palestinian Collection”
Flinders Petrie
Mortimer Wheeler
decolonizing collections

Palestine has a material presence in the story of the founding of the Institute of Archaeology (IoA) in London. The first institute director, Mortimer Wheeler, in his 1953 address on the centenary of Flinders Petrie’s birth, tells of the vital role that Petrie’s renown, and his “homeless Palestinian collection,” subsequently rehomed in Britain, had in the establishment of the IoA. Once secured, the IoA goes on to take a crucial role in the colonial mission of instituting archaeology. Butler explores both the idea, and the operational logistics, of “rehoming.” The author begins with a detailed critical reading of Wheeler’s address in which the act of “rehoming” and the “Palestinian collection” as critical lenses are used to trace both Petrie’s patriarchal persona as the “Father of Palestinian Archaeology” and also new “beginnings” (as Edward Said proposed) and new possibilities for “decolonizing” the collection. The article later places the IoA’s unusual beginnings in conversation with the exhibition Moving Objects – Stories of Displacement (2019) that was co-curated with asylum-seekers and refugee groups and held in University College London's Octagon Gallery. The exhibition featured items from the “Palestinian collection” engaged with by Palestinians living in refugee camps in Jordan. The author explores how these new engagements repositioned archaeological collections as a resource for contemporary Palestinians to reflect on and profile alternative experiences of “homelessness” and heritage.

Author biography: 

Beverley Butler is Reader in Cultural Heritage and MA program coordinator in Cultural Heritage Studies at the University College London, Institute of Archaeology. Her research interests are in critical heritage, cultural memory, and heritage well-being, and her long-standing research notably includes “Dislocated Identities and ‘Non-places’ – Heritage, Place-making and Well-being in Refugee Camps” with Dr. Fatima Al-Nammari, Petra University, Jordan (2011–ongoing).