The Early Years
Since the end of the 19th century, the American School of Oriental Research has been on the forefront of American research efforts in the Near East. Founded in 1900, the American School of Oriental Study and Research in Palestine had its first headquarters in a hotel room in Jerusalem. Twenty-one colleges, universities, and theological schools chartered ASOR, while three organizations (the Archaeological Institute of America, the Society for Biblical Literature, and the American Oriental Society) helped oversee its creation. By 1901, our first excavation had begun at the tombs at Sidon, and our first grant was awarded. In 1909, excavations were underway at Samaria with George Reisner at the helm. Reisner introduced his pioneering excavation and recording techniques to Palestinian archaeology, beginning systematic excavations in the region.
In 1910, the School’s managing committee declared its first ten years a success. However, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the Ottoman Empire’s entry into the war led the director, James Montgomery, to close the school. We reopened in Jerusalem in 1919 and published the first volume of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR). By the next year, William F. Albright, a fellow at the Jerusalem School, had been appointed director—a post he held for nine years. The first Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research and the second volume of BASOR were published that same year, a propitious beginning for our young school.
1921 marked a turning point for ASOR. We were incorporated in the United States and began to use the name The American Schools of Oriental Research. Our second center, the Baghdad School, opened in 1923. The 1920s saw many further developments. We designed our seal, the Summerian dingir enclosed in the ankh, to represent the breadth of ASOR’s interests. In 1925, the main buildings of the Jerusalem headquarters were completed thanks to generous gifts from James and Jane Nies. Our affiliated excavations in the Levant and Iraq continued throughout the 1920s and 1930s, including excavations at Tel Beit Mirsim and Jerash, and Nelson Glueck’s surveys of Jordan. In 1938 G. Ernest Wright launched The Biblical Archaeologist (now Near Eastern Archaeology). The outbreak of World War II and rising violence in the region forced ASOR to put programs on hold again in 1939.
The 1940s were a time of change. The Baghdad School founded the Journal of Cuneiform Studies in 1947. The ASOR Newsletter began production in 1948, based on the private newsletters of Nelson Glueck. In that same year, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and brought to ASOR, where John Trever, acting director, recognized their authenticity. We worked to photograph and publish the first scrolls in 1950. War left the Jerusalem headquarters damaged by mortars and small arms fire, and in 1949, ASOR ended up on the Jordanian side of the city—still in contact with all of Jordan but cut off from Israeli scholars and sites.
During the 1950s we helped sponsor digs in several areas of the Middle East, including Kathleen Kenyon’s dig at Jericho and the excavations of Nippur. During the Suez conflict in 1956, staff were evacuated from the Jerusalem School but returned soon thereafter. By 1958, ASOR scholars were involved in the long-term dig at Sardis.
The Six-Day War in 1967 prompted the evacuation of the Jerusalem School once again. The war left the Jerusalem School under Israeli control and the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR) was founded in 1968 in Amman, Jordan, to allow American scholars access to other countries in the region. In 1970 the Jerusalem School was renamed the W. F. Albright Institute for Archaeological Research (AIAR), while ASOR took charge of publications and fundraising efforts in the U.S. The Baghdad School closed in 1969 due to hostility from the ruling Baath Party and became the Committee on Mesopotamian Civilization.
The 1970s saw numerous ASOR-affiliated excavations taking place around the eastern Mediterranean, and from 1975 to 1979 at Carthage as well. The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) was founded in 1978 to foster research into the history of the island, particularly the Phoenicians, and to support the excavation of Idalion.
In 1985, Gary Rollefson recovered an important collection of 8,000 year old plaster figurines from ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan, one of the largest Neolithic settlements in the Near East. A desire to promote our mission in Canada led to the founding of the CASOR in 1990. Meanwhile, the first Gulf War temporarily caused ACOR to close, while AIAR and CAARI limited their work. ASOR’s central office moved to Boston University in 1996, where we remain today.
ASOR has three affiliated overseas research centers, approximately 75 member institutions, and about 1800 individual members. We communicate news of the latest research findings through our journals, books, lectures, and annual meeting. We award dozens of fellowships for fieldwork in the eastern Mediterranean annually. Today, we continue to build on more than a century of work and follow our historic mission of promoting scholarship on and understanding of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East.
ASOR is a non-profit 501(c)(3), scholar-directed society including individual members and a consortium of institutions dedicated to Near Eastern archaeology. ASOR’s mission is to initiate, encourage, and support research into, and public understanding of, the history and cultures of the Near East and wider Mediterranean world, from the earliest times. ASOR continues to be a dynamic group of professionals with an unparalleled record of success in reawakening the Middle East’s past, making unearthed antiquities speak eloquently.
Learn more about the history of ASOR and American archaeology in the Near East in the ASOR Archives.