R. A. Stewart Macalister

R. A. Stewart Macalister books and biography


R. A. Stewart Macalister

Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister (1870-1950) was an Irish archaeologist.

Macalister was born in Dublin, Ireland and 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 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 the British Isles. His work as a translator of Irish myths and legends is still highly regarded today. He was elected to the Royal Irish Academy in 1910, and was president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland from 1924 to 1928.



  • Ecclesiastical Vestments: Their Development and History (1896)
  • Studies in Irish Epigraphy (1897)
  • Excavations in Palestine, 1898-1900 (1902) (with F.J. Bliss)
  • The Story of the Crop-Eared Boy / The Story of the Eagle-Boy (1908) (editor/translator)
  • The Memorial Slabs of Clonmacnois, King's County (1909)
  • The Excavation of Gezer (1910-1912)
  • A History of Civilization in Palestine (1912)
  • The Philistines: Their History and Civilization (1914)
  • A Text Book of European Archaeology (1921)
  • The Latin and Irish Lives of Ciaran (1921) (editor/translator)
  • Ireland in Pre-Celtic Times (1921)
  • A Century of Excavation in Palestine (1925)
  • Excavations on the Hill of Ophel (1926)
  • The Archaeology of Ireland (1928)
  • Tara, a Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland (1931)
  • Ancient Ireland (1935)
  • Lebor Gabála Érenn (1938-1941) (editor/translator)
  • Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum (1945)


Thomas, Page A. 1984. "BA" portrait: The Success and Failure of Robert Alexander Steward Macalister. Biblical Archaeologist 47(1): 33-35.

See also

  • Gezer calendar
  • Ogham
  • Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland

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