Israel Antiquities Authority Brings Mandate Palestine Into the Digital Era

The first stage of digitizing the authority's archives has been completed: More than 36,000 documents have been scanned and made accessible to the public.

For quite some time, the Antiquities Authority faced a daunting task. How would they scan thousands of documents on different kinds of fragile paper and make them accessible to the public? How should they handle documents in poor physical condition – letters typed on fragile paper, old yellowing maps – that are liable to crumble if they are scanned industrially?

An outside company that specializes in processing and scanning old archival materials by hand provided the solution. The firm recently scanned 36,000 documents dating from 1919 to 1948 that offer a glimpse of Jerusalem and Acre under the British Mandate. These documents, which make up the British Mandate Archive, have been digitized and are now accessible to the public on the authority's website at http://www.iaa-archives.org.il. Most of this material was originally in English.

“These materials were stored until recently in libraries and archives not sufficiently accessible to the average user," said Ephraim Reich, director general of ImageStore Systems Ltd., which carried out the project. "This work will help preserve this important archival material for our benefit and for that of future generations,” he said.
In the new digitized archive, users can find pictures of the Old City of Jerusalem, building plans of the Temple Mount as well as a great deal of professional and scientific material related to the field of antiquities.

Professional and amateur historians will also find administrative material there that could be of interest, such as preservation, inspection and excavation files, blueprints, illustrations, estate documents and card files.

The scanning of these materials is part of a larger project that aims to scan and classify Israel's entire archaeological archive, which consists of thousands more documents, photographs, maps and plans. Funding for the projects comes from the Heritage Program at the Prime Minister’s Office as part of a multi-year budget of about NIS 800 million, half of which comes from the government’s budget. The cost of the initial phase of the project, which was completed recently, is NIS 1.4 million.

“The Mandatory archive constitutes the principal foundation of archaeological research of the past 100 years,” said Government Secretary Zvi Hauser and Heritage Program director Reuven Pinsky in a statement. “This program will make it possible for the public, in general, and scholars in Israel and abroad to access this treasure trove of knowledge."

Michal Fattal
Israel Antiquities Authority
Michal Fattal