Rachael Sparks

Lecturer and Keeper of Collections, Institute of Archaeology

The Institute of Archaeology
University College London
London WC1E 6BT


Rachael Sparks did both her BA and PhD at the University of Sydney. While there she became involved in a number of field projects abroad, including excavations at the sites of Pella, Teleilat Ghassul, Petra and Gharandal in Jordan, and Aksum in Ethiopia. While her primary role was usually as object Registrar, she has also served as a field excavator and designed a number of archaeological databases for projects in both Sydney and Copenhagen.

On completion of her doctorate, which examined the stone vessel industries of the Bronze Age Levant, Rachael took up a position at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, as Curator of the Petrie Palestinian Collection (1999-2003). This was followed by a research position at the Pitt Rivers Museum (2003-2005), working on an AHRC funded project: Recovering the Material and Visual Cultures of the Southern Sudan: A Museological Resource. The outcome of this project may be seen at: http://southernsudan.prm.ox.ac.uk/. She returned to UCL to become Keeper of Collections at the Institute of Archaeology in 2005.

In 2007 Rachael Sparks curated a major exhibition on the work and influence of Flinders Petrie in southern Palestine. Titled ‘A Future for the Past: Petrie’s Palestinian Collection’, this used the impressive collections from the Institute of Archaeology to explore issues relating to changing concepts of heritage and identity in the Middle East. Her most recent project has been curating the A.G. Leventis Gallery of Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean, a permanent display which opened at the Institute of Archaeology in November 2007. She currently lectures at the Institute of Archaeology on Texts and Archaeology, the Archaeology of the Levant and Museum Documentation.


  • BA Hons University of Sydney 1988
  • PhD University of Sydney 1999


  • 1999-2003: Curator, Petrie Palestinian Collection, Institute of Archaeology UCL
  • 2003-2005: Project Researcher, Recovering the Material and Visual Cultures of the Southern Sudan: A Museological Resource, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford
  • 2005- 2014: Lecturer/Keeper of Collections, Institute of Archaeology UCL
  • 2014-present: Senior Lecturer/Keeper of Collections, Institute of Archaeology UCL

Research interests

  • The material culture of the Bronze and Iron Age Levant
  • Egyptian and Levantine stone vessels
  • Cross-cultural contact and change
  • Culture and identity
  • Flinders Petrie and the archaeology of Palestine, 1890-1938

Current projects

A research project is currently underway to investigate the role of object-based learning in archaeology, and to find ways to enhance usage of the Institute of Archaeology's collections in teaching and research.

Undergraduate students study ancient texts

Recent conference papers

Contextualising Scarab and Seal Use in the Bronze Age Levant. The Ancient Levant, Institute of Archaeology UCL, 17th May 2008.

Object Handling in the Classroom: Strategies for Success. Object-based Learning in Higher Education, UCL, 2nd April 2009.

Rewriting the Script: Decoding the Textual Experience in the Bronze Age Levant. Writing as Material Practice, Institute of Archaeology, UCL, 16th May 2009.

Transforming Canaan: The Material Culture of Contact, 7th ICAANE 2010, British Museum/UCL, 12th April 2010.

The material culture of the MB Levant undergoes a number of transformations, not the least of which involves the introduction of new forms of cultural expression. Many of these had their origin in Egyptian culture, encouraged by contacts made through trade and other means, including Canaanite settlement in the eastern Delta. This paper will explore the influence Egyptian culture had on that of the southern Levant, and how these influences were selectively adopted and adapted by consumers. It will focus particularly on whether the ways in which certain object types common to both cultures are interpreted and utilised in a culturally specific fashion, including scarabs and cosmetic vessels, and how this process changes over the course of the Bronze Age. This will lead to a better understanding of how object choice may be used to construct and mediate group identity.


  • Sparks, R.T. Re-writing the Script: Decoding the Textual Experience in the Bronze Age Levant, in: K.E. Piquette and R.D. Whitehouse (eds), Writing as Material Practice: Substance, Surface and Medium, Ubiquity Press, 2013, 75-104.
  • Sparks, R.T. Publicising Petrie: Financing Fieldwork in British Mandate Palestine (1926-1938), Present Pasts 5.2, 2013, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pp.56.
  • Sparks, R.T. Flinders Petrie through Word and Deed: Re-evaluating Petrie's Field Techniques and their Impact on Object Recover in British Mandate Palestine, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 145.2, 2013, pages 1-17.
  • Sparks, R.T. Fishing for Meaning: The Significance of Net Sinkers, Fishhooks and Netting Needles in Mortuary Contexts at Tell el-'Ajjul, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5.2, 2013, pages 33-47.
  • Sparks, R.T. Object Handling in the Archaeology Classroom - Strategies for Success. University Museums and Collections Journal 3, 2010, pages 191-195.
  • Sparks, R.T. Stone Vessels in the Levant (Palestine Exploration Fund Annual VIII), 2007. For reviews, see: Ahrens, A. 2009, Bibliotheca Orientalis LXVI no. 5/6, 667-672; Banning, E.B. 2008, Journal of the American Oriental Society 128.4, 11-12; Harrell, J.A., 2009. American Journal of Archaeology 113.2http://www.ajaonline.org/pdfs/book_reviews/113.2/09_Harrell.pdf; Rabate, A. 2009. Archaeology and History in Lebanon 29, 102; Rowan, Y. 2010. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 358, 76-78.
  • Ucko, P.J., Sparks, R.T. & Laidlaw, S. A Future for the Past: Petrie’s Palestinian Collection. Essays and Exhibition Catalogue, 2007.
  • Coote, J., Edwards, E., Morton, C. & Sparks, R.T. Recovering the Material and Visual Cultures of the Southern Sudan: A Museological Resource, http://southernsudan.prm.ox.ac.uk/
  • Sparks, R.T. “The Taweret Workshop: Nicholson Museum 00.107 and Related Vessels”, in: K.N. Sowada & B.G. Ockinga (eds): Egyptian Art in the Nicholson Museum (Mediterranean Archaeology Supplement, Sydney), 2006, pages: 241-261.
  • Sparks, R.T. ‘An Artist of Exceptional Skill’: The Zande Potter Mbitim, Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum Newsletter 55, 2006, page: 10.
  • S. Bourke, R. Sparks, & M. Schroeder, “Pella in the Middle Bronze Age”, in: P.M. Fischer (ed.), The Chronology of the Jordan Valley during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages: Pella, Tell Abu al-Kharaz, and Tell Deir ‘Alla, 2006, pages: 9-58.
  • Sparks, R.T. "The Lost Loci of Tell el-'Ajjul: Petrie's Area C", Palestine Exploration Quarterly 137.1, 2005, pages: 23-29.
  • Sparks, R.T. "The Actual Advantages of Virtual Collections: Bringing the Southern Sudan Online", The Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum Newsletter 51, 2005, page: 8.
  • Sparks, R.T. “Canaan In Egypt: Archaeological Evidence For A Social Phenomenon”, in: J. Bourriau & J. Phillips (eds), Invention and Innovation. The Social Context of Technological Change 2: Egypt, the Aegean and the Near East, 1650-1150 B.C., Oxbow books, 2004, pages: 25-54.
  • “Egyptian Stone Vessels and the Politics of Exchange (2617-1070 BC)”, in: R. Matthews & C. Roemer (eds), Ancient Perspectives on Egypt, UCL Press, 2003, pages: 39-56.
  • S.J. Bourke, R.T. Sparks, B. McLaren, L. Mairs, J. Meadows, T. Hikade & W. Reade, “Preliminary Report on the University of Sydney’s Eighteenth and Nineteenth Seasons of Excavation at Pella (Tabaqat Fahl) in 1996/97", ADAJ 47, 2003, pages: 335-388.
  • Sparks, R.T. “Strangers in a Strange Land: Egyptians in Southern Palestine during the Bronze Age”, Archaeology International 2002/2003, 2003, pages: 48-51.
  • K. da Costa, M. O’Hea, L. Mairs, R. Sparks & P. Boland, “New Light on Late Antique Pella: Sydney University Excavations in Area XXXV, 1997”, ADAJ XLVI, 2002, pages: 503-533.
  • Sparks, R.T. “Stone Vessel Workshops in the Levant: Luxury Products of a Cosmopolitan Age”, in: A.J. Shortland (ed.), The Social Context of Technological Change: Egypt and the Near East, 1650-1550 BC, Oxbow books, 2001, pages: 93-112.
  • Sparks, R.T. “Palestinian Stone Vessels - The Evidence from Pella”, Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan VII, 2001, pages: 259-263.
  • S. Bourke, J. Lovell, R. Sparks, P. Seaton, L. Mairs & J. Meadows, “A Second and Third Season of Renewed Excavation by the University of Sydney at Tulaylat al-Ghassul (1995-1997), ADAJ XLIV, 2000, pages: 37-89.
  • S.J. Bourke, R.T. Sparks & L. Mairs, “Exploring Prehistoric Pella in Jordan: the 1994-1997 Field Seasons”, Mediterranean Archaeology 12, 1999, pages: 147-156.
  • S.J. Bourke, R.T. Sparks, K.N. Sowada, P.B. McLaren & L.D. Mairs, "Preliminary Report on the University of Sydney's Sixteenth and Seventeenth Season of Excavations at Pella (Tabaqat Fahl) in 1994/95", ADAJ XLII, 1998, pages: 179-211.
  • Sparks, R.T. "Egyptian Stone Vessels in Palestine During the Second Millennium B.C. and their Impact on the Local Stone Vessel Industry", in: G. Bunnens (ed.), Trade and Interaction in the Near East, 1996, Abr-Nahrain Supplement 5, pages: 51-66.
  • S.J. Bourke, P.L. Seaton, R.T. Sparks, J.L. Lovell & L.D. Mairs, "The Urbanisation Process in the South Jordan Valley: Renewed Excavations at Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan 1994", ADAJ XXXIX, 1995, pages: 31-64.
  • S.J. Bourke & R.T. Sparks, "The DAJ Excavations at Pella in Jordan in 1963/64" in: S. Bourke & J-P. Descoeudres (eds), Trade, Contact and the Movement of Peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean, Studies in Honour of J. Basil Hennessy, Mediterranean Archaeology Supplement 3, 1995, pages: 149-167.
  • Sparks, R.T. "Using Pottery to Interpret the Past: Astarte Figurines in Late Bronze Age Palestine, a Case Study", in: C.C. Sorrell and A.J. Ruys (eds), Proceedings of the International Ceramics Conference Austceram 94 (International Ceramic Monographs 1.1-2), 1994, pages: 16-21.
  • S.J. Bourke, R.T Sparks, K.N. Sowada & L.D. Mairs, "Preliminary Report on the University of Sydney's Fourteenth Season of Excavations at Pella (Tabaqat Fahl) in 1992", ADAJ XXXVIII, 1994, pages: 81-126.
  • A.G. Walmsley et al., "The Eleventh and Twelfth Seasons of Excavations at Pella (Tabaqat Fahl) 1989-1990", ADAJ XXXVII, 1993, pages: 165-231.
  • Sparks, R.T. "A Series of Middle Bronze Age Bowls with Ram's-Head Handles from the Jordan Valley", Mediterranean Archaeology 4, 1991, pages: 45-54.


  • American Schools of Oriental Research
  • Anglo-Israel Society Executive Committee
  • Council for British Research in the Levant
  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Israel Exploration Society
  • Palestine Exploration Fund

Press and media

  • Petrie in Palestine, Current Archaeology 208, 2007, pages: 36-39


A visitor the Future for the Past exhibition examines the dighouse reconstruction

A Future for the Past: Petrie's Palestinian Collection. Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 9th January - 24th March 2007.

The A.G. Leventis Gallery of Cypriot and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology. Institute of Archaeology, UCL. Ongoing.