Finds from the H.D. Colt Expedition in Shivta (1933–1936; 1938) Revealed for the First Time

In January 1938, a suitcase, which contained artifacts, documents, and photographs from the archaeological excavations at Shivta, was forgotten at the Haifa port. The suitcase belonged to Harris Dunscombe Colt (1901—1973), the excavator of Shivta. Colt never came to claim the forgotten suitcase, nor was it ever sent to him. The suitcase was eventually shipped to Jerusalem and its contents were never studied or published. 


Excavations are now underway in Shivta under the direction of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. These excavations are part of an extensive project which focuses on the fall of Byzantine society in the Negev region. This project is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) under the EU's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme.

As part of the project, researchers traced the lost and never-published artifacts from Colt’s initial excavations at Shivta. While searching the Mandatory archive at the Rockefeller Museum, researchers found approximately 140 items from Colt's excavations. It is probable that these objects were the very artifacts contained in Colt's forgotten suitcase.

The objects in the suitcase include a rich variety of jewelry, items made of metal, stone, and glass, decorated wooden and bone tools, and fragments of painted plaster, which sometimes bore text. These objects were discovered in dwellings and public structures excavated by Colt at Shivta. The objects in this exhibit were not previously known to the scientific community, and they have never before been displayed to the general public.

The finds in this exhibit are among the few that remain from Colt’s excavations in Shivta. Most of the artifacts from Colt's excavations in Shivta were sent abroad, dispersed worldwide, and never studied scientifically or published. Some of the artifacts that remained in the country were destroyed in a mysterious fire that engulfed the Shivta expedition house in 1938, during the Arab revolt.


This presentation of the finds is an important and unique addition to the study of Shivta and the archaeology of Israel. The detective story of the discovery of the suitcase and its connection to the finds from the Colt expedition adds a fascinating new facet to archaeological research. The information contained within these artifacts merges well with the excavations in Shivta that have, for years, been carried out by the Department of Archaeology and the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa.

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