In 1914 a group of Jewish intellectuals founded the Society for the Reclamation of Antiquities, now known as the Israel Exploration Society (IES). Its purpose was to further historical, geographical and archaeological research concerning the Land of Israel. The Society’s activities were disrupted by the outbreak of World War I but resumed in 1920, when it became known as the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society. During the British Mandatory period, it was responsible for the first archaeological excavations ever conducted by a Jewish organization in Palestine, at Hammat Tiberias Absalom’s Tomb and the Third Wall in Jerusalem, Ramat Rahel, Beth-Shearim, and Beth-Yerah.

Following Israel’s War of Independence, the IES received the first excavation permit issued by the Israeli government allowing it to excavate at Tell Qasile. Since then, the IES has organized and sponsored some of the most important archaeological projects carried out in the country including Hazor, Masada, the excavations near the Temple Mount, in the Jewish Quarter and at the City of David in Jerusalem, the Judean Desert Expeditions, En-Gedi, Arad, Lachish, Aphek, Jericho, Herodium, Yoqneam, Dor and Megiddo.


The Israel Exploration Society plays a key role in archaeological research covering all periods, from prehistoric times to the Ottoman period. It coordinates much of the multi-institutional archaeological research carried out by both Israeli and foreign archaeological expeditions in Israel.


Major activities undertaken by the IES include organizing excavations, enlisting financial support for archaeological projects, publishing excavation reports and liaison and cooperation with Israeli and foreign institutions in the field of publication and in a collective effort to promote the cause of archaeology.


Another facet of the IES’s activity is the dissemination of knowledge gained from the exploration of Israel to the general public in Israel and abroad. Fifty-nine archaeological conferences have been held for members of the IES. These annual gatherings include lectures by archaeologists and guided tours of recently-discovered sites. Hebrew-speaking members receive the semi-annual Qadmoniot, while the semi- annual Israel Exploration Journal caters to the English reader. The Eretz-Israel Festschrift series publishes original archaeological, historical and geographical studies in Hebrew and English in honor of leading international scholars in these fields. Thirty-four volumes have appeared to date.

The IES, in cooperation with other institutions, has held thirty annual meetings for the professional archaeological community in Israel. Two international congresses on Biblical Archaeology were held in 1984 and 1990, attracting hundreds of participants from around the world. The proceedings of both have been published in two volumes entitled Biblical Archaeology Today. In 1997 an international congress was held in Jerusalem marking 50 years since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The proceedings appear in the volume The Dead Sea Scrolls Fifty Years after Their Discovery.


The IES is a nonprofit organization governed by an Executive Committee and a Council comprising representatives from all of the institutes of archaeology in the Israel and several major archaeological museums. In 1989 the Israel Exploration Society was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize for its unique contribution to society and to the State of Israel. The citation of the judges’ committee notes: “It has been the principal and most effective institution for furthering knowledge of the archaeology and history of the country both at home and abroad since it was founded seventy-five years ago.”


The Israel Exploration Society continues playing an active role in the scientific and public spheres. In coming years the IES will edit and publish the results of some of the most important archaeological excavations being carried out throughout Israel: Hazor, Masada, `En-Gedi, Sepphoris, Arad and the Jewish Quarter and City of David in Jerusalem. A highlight of the IES’s extensive publications program is The Ancient Pottery of Israel and Its Neighbors from the Neolithic through the Hellenistic Period. The first three volumes have already appeared and fourth is in preparation. The series is edited by Seymour Gitin and published in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research, and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land appeared in four-volume Hebrew and English editions in 1993. A fifth update volume was published in 2008. Currently in preparation is a book chronicling the Israel Exploration Society’s 100-year plus history.