Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

Bats in the Museum

A couple of months ago I was furtling around in the online archives of the Rockefeller Museum, established under the British Mandate as the Palestine Archaeological Museum and run from 1948-67 by the Jordanians until the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

My main purpose was the endless hunt for snippets of information on Stephan Hanna Stephan, a Palestinian staff member at the Museum during the Mandate period and the most elusive of the subjects of my PhD. The various academically interesting things I turned up will have to await more official publications, but perhaps the most entertaining items were several notes sent by Acting Director of the Antiquities Department, Mr C[edric] N[orman] Johns.

Whilst Johns is best known for his archaeological excavations in Palestine, particularly at Atlit Castle, the notes reveal the more mundane side of the Director’s role. Mr Johns, it seems, was having trouble with bats, namely those “infest[ing] the Cloisters of the Archaeological Museum” and leaving nasty stains behind them. A first unlucky bat had, it seems, been caught by the Museum’s caretaker, Mr Jalil, and sent as a sample to the Department of Works, with a request for identification and advice on how to deter the Museum’s unwanted visitors:


The somewhat frosty reply from the recipient of the bat, however, denies that the department has any means of identifying the creature, and suggests that the zoological department of the Hebrew University be enlisted. The poor bat, meanwhile, seems to have been misplaced or disposed of, as a terse request in Johns’ handwriting at the bottom of the reply requests: “Mr Jalil – Pl[ease] catch another. CNJ.”


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