James Leslie Starkey was born on 3 January 1895 in Stoke Newington, Middlesex. Starkey was the chief excavator of the first archaeological expedition to Lachish (Tell el-Duweir) (in modern day Israel) from 1932. As a child he was not so much interested in formal education but developed an interest in antiquity from books. He later worked as an antique dealer and spent his spare time reading and visiting London galleries, including the British Museum.
After serving in the RAF during World War 1 he attended evening classes in Egyptology at University College, London. There he met Flinders Petrie and Margaret Murray. In 1923 he embarked on an archaeological career working with Petrie and Murray in Upper Egypt for the British School of Archaeology.
In 1932 Starkey led his own expedition to Lachish, an important Canaanite city in the Kingdom of Judah dating from the 2nd millennium BC. The site of Lachish is one of the largest and most prominent mounds in Southern Israel. The slopes of the mounds are very steep as a result of the fortifications that were constructed there in ancient times. The 3 Fosse Temples (at the western foot of the mounds) were one of his most important findings during the excavations and dated from the late Bronze Age. Lachish and the temples were destroyed around 1130BC possibly by the invading Sea Peoples and afterwards the site remained abandoned for a long time.
You can view a couple of the necklaces from The Fosse Temples currently on display at The British Museum
Starkey’s expedition also excavated richly furnished tombs in the cemeteries around the mounds. Other impressive finds included a gold plaque portraying a naked Canaanite deity standing on a horse, carved ivory objects and imported pottery.
Tragically Starkey was murdered (by a group of Arab bandits) when he travelled from Lachish to Jerusalem. His death cut the expedition short but work lives on in volumes of his research published by his assistant Olga Tufnell.
You can find out more about materials found in Ancient Levant (which corresponds to the modern states of Syria (West), Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan) visit rooms 57-59 “The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Galleries” at The British Museum, Great Russell Street, WC1B 3DG.