John Garstang was an archaeologist who was a pioneer of archaeological fieldwork techniques and was an early adopter of photography as a means to record archaeological excavations.
He was born on 5 May 1876, in Blackburn, Lancashire. He was educated at Blackburn Grammar School and obtained a scholarship to study mathematics at Jesus College, Oxford. He already had an interest in archaeology and spent his vacations at Oxford excavating sites in the UK, including Ribchester, Lancashire (1898); Ardotalia, Derbyshire (1899); Richborough, Kent (1900); and Navio Roman fort, Derbyshire (1903).
After graduating from Oxford in 1899, Garstang worked for Flinders Petrie at Abydos, Egypt. In the winter of 1900-1901, Garstang, funded by the Egyptian Research Account, excavated sites north of Abydos including Alawniyeh, Mashasna and Bet Khallaf (Bayt Khallāf). It was during this period Garstang met the Assyriology, Archibald Henry Sayce, who became his mentor and lifelong friend.
Garstang returned to Egypt the following year with private funding from a Excavation Committee he has set up himself. The Committee comprised wealthy industrialists and representative of museums who, in exchange for their donations, would receive a selection of the artefacts discovered during the season. This was a funding method Garstang used for the rest of his career. During the 1901-1902 season, Garstang excavated the 3rd and 4th Dynasty stairway tombs and necropolis at Reqaqnah (Ar Raqāqinah) and later burials sites at B Bet Dawd (Bayt Dāwūd) and Sararwah (Sarāwirah).In 1904 Garstang published his research at Reqaqnah and Bet Khallaf in Tombs of the Third Egyptian Dynasty.
In 1902, Garstang became the honorary reader in Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Liverpool. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Institute of Archaeology at Liverpool in 1904, acting as its honorary secretary until it was incorporated into the University in 1948. In 1907, Garstang was appointed the Professor of Methods and Practice of Archaeology at the University, a role he held until his retirement. Garstang carried out very little teaching at the University and was permitted to carry out archaeological digs abroad during term time on behalf of the Institute and the University. The majority of the artefacts from his digs were distributed to members of his excavation committees but other artefacts and his excavation records were presented to the Institute for its own Museum (now the Garstang Museum of Archaeology).
From 1902-1904, Garstang spent two seasons excavating the Middle Kingdom shaft tombs at Beni Hasan, leading to the publication of The burial customs of ancient Egypt in 1907. He also excavated the royal tomb at Naqada in 1904. In 1903 he was joined by (Ernest) Harold Jones (1877-1911), an young artist who had initially gone to Egypt because of his poor health. Jones worked for Garstang until 1907, supervising and recording the excavations, including taking photographs of the sites and objects discovered. In the 1904-1905 season, with funding from the Edfu excavation committee, Garstang excavated the ‘fort; at Hierakonpolis, and burials at Hissayeh and Esna. In the next season, Garstang completed his excavations at Esna and also carried out a short exploratory survey of sites in Nubia. In the spring of 1906, Garstang transferred his work to cemeteries at Abydos, where he worked until 1909.
Through his friendship with Sayce, Garstang also became interested in the archaeology of the Near East and the Hittite Empire. In the spring of 1907 he carried out an exploratory survey of Anatolia (now Turkey and Syria) looking for the remains of the Hittite Empire, with his new assistant, Horst Schliephack. Schliephack was a photographer who had previously worked in Egypt for James Henry Breasted and was the Institute of Archaeology’s Staff Assistant from 1907 to 1913. Garstang returned to Turkey in 1908 and 1911 to excavate the site of Sakje-Geuzi (Sakçagözü). In 1910, Garstang published his topographical study of the Hittite monuments, The Land of the Hittites (later rewritten as The Hittite Empire in 1929).
In 1909, also at the suggestion of Sayce, Garstang transferred his activities from Egypt to the site of the city of Meroë, Sudan. He excavated site every winter until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
After the War, Garstang took charge of the School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, (1919-1926) and was the director of the department of antiquities for the mandatory government of Palestine, 1920-1926. From 1930-1936 he was involved in a major excavation of the city of Jericho. Garstang returned to Turkey in 1936 to survey the Cilician Plain and started to excavate the site of Yümük Tepe near Mersin in 1938. The excavation was halted during World War Two but Garstang complete work between 1946 and 1948. With the support of the Turkish Government he founded the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara in 1948.
In 1907 he married Marie Louise Bergés of Toulouse. They had a successful partnership and she often accompanied Garstang on his expeditions and was involved in the excavations. They had two children.
John Garstang died in September 1956 in Beirut. His later research on the Hittite Empire was published posthumously in 1959 by his nephew, Oliver Gurney as The Geography of the Hittite Empire.