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R. A. Stewart Macalister

Line painted in 1900 (at top of image, marked "PEF") by Robert A.S. Macalister showing the level of the Dead Sea.

Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister (8 July 1870 – 26 April 1950) was an Irish archaeologist.

Biographical notes

Macalister was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Alexander Macalister, then professor of Professor of Zoology, University of Dublin. His father was appointed professor of anatomy at Cambridge in 1883, and he was educated at The Perse School, and then studied at Cambridge University.

Although his earliest interest was in the archaeology of Ireland, he soon developed a strong interest in biblical archaeology. Along with Frederick J. Bliss, he excavated several towns in the Shephelah region of Palestine from 1898 to 1900. Using advances in stratigraphy building on the work of Flinders Petrie, they developed a chronology for the region using ceramic typology. Upon Bliss' retirement, Macalister became director of excavations for the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in 1901.

From 1902 to 1909 he was responsible for the excavations at Gezer, Palestine – in the modern nation of Israel, just west of Jerusalem. This was one of the earliest large-scale scientific archaeological excavations in the region. The Gezer calendar found there is a very early paleo-Hebrew calendrical inscription. However, in most respects Macalister's work in Palestinian archaeology is considered to have been a failure, due to the poor quality of his excavation techniques and his shoddy record-keeping. Because Macalister was the only professional archaeologist involved in the excavation, managing a project of such complexity was essentially an impossible task.

In 1909 Macalister left the field of Palestinian archaeology to accept a position as professor of Celtic archaeology at University College, Dublin, where he taught until his retirement in 1943. During this period, he worked at the ancient Irish royal site of Tara and was responsible for editing the catalogue of all known ogham inscriptions from Great Britain and Ireland. Many of his translations of Irish myths and legends are still widely used today. He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1910 and served as their president from 1926 to 1931.[1] He was also president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland from 1924 to 1928.

He is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge, with his wife Margaret A. M. Macalister.


See also



  • Thomas, Page A. 1984. "BA" portrait: The Success and Failure of Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister. Biblical Archaeologist 47(1): 33–35.
  • ‘MACALISTER, Robert Alexander Stewart’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2008; online edn, Oxford University Press, Dec 2012 ; online edn, Oct 2012 accessed 8 March 2013
  • "R. A. Stewart Macalister (MLSR889RA)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  • Brian Fagan, 'Macalister, Robert Alexander Stewart (1870–1950)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 8 March 2013

External links

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