The Part Which the Camera Plays
The importance of capturing on film the decisive and transient moments of an archaeological expedition was not lost on William F. Badè, the director of excavations at the ancient site of Tell en-Nasbeh from 1926 to 1936. Each season the team went into the field with an assortment of cutting-edge photographic equipment best suited for such grueling terrain. While excavations progressed, Dr. Badè was sure to have all aspects of the dig visually documented, from the discovery of important objects in situ, to the transient stages of unearthing complex structures such as tombs. The shifting appearance of the site’s architectural remains was also recorded through a series of general views taken from an elevated viewpoint, as demonstrated in the image above. By the end of each season the team had amassed an unfathomable number of 5 x 7 inch negatives and their black-and-white photograph counterparts, 3¼ x 4¼ inch negatives that were later used to produce lantern slides, and a record-book documenting each photograph taken that season. Photograph numbers were also included on basket tags and in the main object registry book, which now permits cross-referencing of this vast collection of materials.
Owing to Dr. Badè’s forward-thinking and organized scientific approach, the Badè Museum now has a very rare and uniquely insightful digital library for the excavations at Tell en-Nasbeh. Such a collection of photographs permits us to see the remains of this ancient city through the eyes of the excavators, to experience what they must have experienced when they first laid eyes upon an object in situ that had not been seen for close to 2700 years. Thanks to Dr. Badè we can better understand the experience of “recover[ing] from the earth the still fragmentary story of man’s past.” (Badè, A Manual of Excavation in the Near East, 1934).
Tell en-Nasbeh Photographers:
George P. Hedley (1927, 1929); Wesley A. Havermale (1932); Robert Branstead (1935)