(1) Overview


Ancient Tadmor, today known as Palmyra, Syria, has been of scholarly interest for centuries. The site has received much attention for its impressive monumental Roman period architecture, including the tower and underground tombs, as well as its rich art, of which funerary sculptures make up a substantial part of what has been handed down to us [1]. Having captured western attention since its “rediscovery” by Europeans in the seventeenth century, the early twentieth century – particularly the post first world war period coinciding with the introduction of the French Mandate in Syria – brought European archaeological missions to the site [2]. The expansive site of Palmyra had much to offer, and one aspect of focus for the first large-scale systematic excavations were the numerous necropoleis. In Palmyra the local burial customs for the middle class and elite inhabitants of the city in the Roman period were inhumation in tower tombs, and later so-called temple or house tombs as well as underground hypogea. The often vast hypogea, were of particular interest to the Danish archaeologist Harald Ingholt [3, 4, 5], a leading scholar of the ancient Near East in his time, who focused his excavations on these hypogea in the southwest necropolis during his fieldwork in 1924, 1925, and 1928 (Figure 1). Ingholt kept handwritten fieldwork diaries during his campaigns in Palmyra. These six diaries together with the so-called Ingholt Archive, were donated to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in 1983 by Ingholt. The diaries had not been studied until the Palmyra Portrait Project (2012–2020) included them in its research programme [6] as they had not been made accessible to the public or researchers. The archive had in the meanwhile been reorganised by Gunhild Ploug, but not published [7, 8]. Within the framework of the Palmyra Portrait Project, all diaries were digitized, transcribed, translated, and commented on [9]. Along with the so-called Ingholt Archive, which will be published in 2022 [5], they now form the knowledge base of the project Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage Through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives [10]. The scanned pages of the diaries are available as open data and allow researchers to go over the notes Ingholt made during his excavations. In total, only 13 tombs were published by Ingholt [11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16], which means that the information from the diaries is yet to be connected to more recent excavations and research. As such, the diaries can help to close gaps in our knowledge of the Palmyrene hypogea and expand our knowledge on the city and the burial spaces [17].

Figure 1 

Workers in Palmyra during excavation (© Rubina Raja and Palmyra Portrait Project, courtesy of Mary Ebba Underdown).

Hypogea were introduced in Palmyra in the late first century AD and continued to be constructed into the third century AD [18]. The underground tombs are composed of one or more chambers that were accessible through a staircase and led to a stone door closing off the tomb. The lintel was often provided with a founder inscription and cession texts, informing the visitors about the people who had paid for the construction, ceded parts of the tomb, and purchased parts of the tomb for their families [19, 20, 21, 22]. Inside the hypogea, shafts (so-called loculi) were carved into the walls, providing space for the dead bodies. The loculi were closed off with reliefs depicting Palmyrene men, women, and children [23, 24, 25]. Furthermore, wall-paintings, sarcophagi, and banquet reliefs decorated the lavish graves. The tombs, their inscriptions and decorative programs were the major interest for Ingholt, so indicated by his detailed annotations in the excavation diaries that his fieldwork would produce.

Across five diaries (the sixth served as a draft for diary 1), Ingholt documented the excavations of around 80 hypogea during the 1920s. The diaries are a unique document of their time, giving insight to the daily (excavation) life and the uncovered archaeological remains. They hold information on the people Ingholt worked with and who visited the excavation, anecdotes about his workers and events during the day, and – most importantly for the scholarship on Palmyra – notes on the graves he found and worked in. Diary 1 focuses on his campaign in 1924, Diary 2 on the campaign in 1925 and Diary 4 on the campaign in 1928. The third diary originates in 1925 as well and Ingholt used it to draw ground-plans of all tombs he had seen in the necropolis (Figure 2). Measurements are given with the ground-plans as is information on the number of loculi on each wall, and mentions of wall paintings, reliefs and sarcophagi. These are all further described in diaries 1, 2, and 4. At the end of diary 3, Ingholt included indications of distances from one grave to another and the direction of their entries towards north. A map that was found as a loose page with the diaries most likely belongs to the localizations given in diary 3. The fifth and last diary is an inventory that summarizes the main information on the tombs excavated in the years before.

Figure 2 

Ground-plan of hypogeum G from diary 3, p. 47 (© Rubina Raja and Palmyra Portrait Project, courtesy of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek).

Numerous pages are dedicated to the inscriptions that Ingholt transcribed and sometimes translated [26, 27]. He also described the portraits he saw and noted down finds from and from around the graves. Smaller objects, like tesserae or portrait heads, were offered to him by his workers and the inhabitants of Palmyra and he gladly purchased and then described them in the diaries (Figure 3). The tesserae are connected to religious banquets in the city and form a large source of information on Palmyrene’s religious life [28, 29]. The diaries also hold information on visitors to the excavation site, correspondences from Ingholt with other scholars, and descriptions of daily activities. The diaries’ pages are full of cross-references, notes on publications, references, and corrections (Figure 4).

Figure 3 

Descriptions and drawings of tesserae from diary 1, p. 80 (© Rubina Raja and Palmyra Portrait Project, courtesy of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek).

Figure 4 

Diary page with references and notes, diary 4, p. 17 (© Rubina Raja and Palmyra Portrait Project, courtesy of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek).

The diaries are published in print over two volumes that hold the original diary pages, a transcription, translation, commentary, and concordances of inscriptions and tombs. Furthermore, photos of Ingholt’s travels in the Near East and photographs taken by him in Palmyra are included [9]. The scans of the diaries are now also made freely available as open data, which will allow scholars to engage with the material and include this important excavation information from around 100 years ago into their current research.

Spatial coverage

Description: Syria, Homs, Palmyra

Latitude: 34 33 12 N degrees minutes/34.5530 decimal degrees

Longitude: 038 16 05 E degrees minutes/38.2680 decimal degrees

Temporal coverage

App. 50 BC – AD 273

(2) Methods

Harald Ingholt’s excavation diaries are in the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark since 1983, together with a large paper archive that holds photos of the Palmyrene funerary portraits and graves [7, 8, 9]. In 2012 the diaries were transferred to Aarhus University for digitization and returned to the museum thereafter. Each page was scanned in 1200dpi and saved as a .pdf file.

Each diary was scanned as a unit, including pages that had been loosely inserted in between pages. These loose pages were, in the publication, kept in the place they have been inserted, despite the fact that they sometimes were inserted later as can be ascertained from the notes on them. This was done in order to keep the order of pages in the publication as closely as possible to the find situation. Some loose pages that were found alongside the diaries are scanned and published as an appendix to the five diaries.

In the print publication the diaries are ordered chronologically. Diary 6 has not been transcribed, translated, or commented as this is simply a compilation of notes that Ingholt then used to write diary 1. The other diaries were published in the following way: each double page holds the scan on the left side and the transcription and translation on the right side. The decision was made to only translate the Danish; French, English, German, and Italian sentences, phrases, and words remained in the original. The transcription is commented in the form of footnotes, referring to published inscriptions, objects, and graves, as well as translations of the published and unpublished Aramaic inscriptions.

(3) Dataset description

Object name

Harald Ingholt’s Diaries

Data type

The data set is primary data in the form of high-resolution scans of the diaries’ pages and loose pages that could be associated with the diaries. In total, 645 diary pages have been scanned. In addition, 26 loose pieces of paper (sometimes even just torn pieces) and the drawing of a map have been digitized. Also, each diary had a cover as well as up to two inner covers; a total of 25 more pages that were scanned. The published form of the diaries was undertaken within the Palmyra Portrait Project.

Format names and versions

PDF – seven sets: Harald Ingholt Diaries; Harald Ingholt Diary_01_1924_MARCH_MAY; Harald Ingholt Diary_02_1925_MARCH_APRIL_1928_scan.pdf; Harald Ingholt Diary_03_1925_INV OF TOMBS.pdf; Harald Ingholt Diary_04_1928_NOV DEC.pdf; Harald Ingholt Diary_05_TOMBS A-AK.pdf; Harald Ingholt Diary Appendix_NOTEBOOK MAY 1924.pdf.

Creation dates

Ingholt wrote the diaries in 1924, 1925, and 1928. It is uncertain when he wrote the diaries that hold the ground-plans of graves and the inventory of all graves, but it must have happened around the same time as they hold information from the excavations as well. He revisited the diaries later on, as we can see additions made in red pen. Whenever Ingholt published on an excavated tomb, he added a note with the journal title, number, and page number to the diary page that e.g. holds the inscription that he published.

In 1983, Ingholt transfered his paper archive to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark and the diaries most likely entered the museum at the same point in time. The Palmyra Portrait Project began working on the diaries in 2012 and they were published in September 2021 [7].

1924 – 1928 (writing of the fieldwork diaries by Ingholt)

1928 – unknown (revisiting of the fieldwork diaries by Ingholt)

1983 (transfer of the diaries from Ingholt in the USA to Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen)

February – April 2012 (digitization of the diaries)

May 2012 – August 2021 (transcription, translation and commentary involving research on the graves and objects mentioned by Ingholt)

Dataset Creators

Ingholt wrote the diaries. Rubina Raja and the Palmyra Portrait Project digitised and researched the fieldwork diaries [6].


Danish with additional data in mainly English, and some French, German, Italian, and Arabic. Inscriptions appear in Latin, ancient Greek, and Palmyrene Aramaic.


CC-BY 4.0

Repository location

Figshare; DOI: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5442765

Publication date


(4) Reuse potential

The diaries’ publication and availability as open data will enrich the research on Roman Palmyra and fill gaps in past research. For example, as the diaries hold information on the graves, their layouts, inscriptions, and findings, it is possible to recontextualize objects that have been removed from the graves and entered museums and private collections. One example is the so-called “Beauty of Palmyra”, a relief that depicts a wealthily adorned female [30]. The relief that was found by Ingholt was first exhibited in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in 1928. Due to the diaries, we now know more about the circumstances of finding. In 1928, on November 24th, Ingholt saw the bust for the first time in the Qasr Abjad, a temple tomb in the Valley of the Tombs [9, 30, 31, 32]. Even though the exact location in the tomb is unknown, the bust can be assigned to a grave due to the information that Ingholt included in his diary. Many of the portraits described in the diaries have not been connected to pieces that have since been exhibited or stored in museums or private collections, but the availability of the excavation information will hopefully help to recontextualize more of the objects in the future.

Another outcome of the work on the diaries is an updated map of the southwest necropolis. In 2010, Klaus Schnädelbach published a topographical map of Palmyra and its surroundings that shows all known structures at the time [33]. Through the information on the graves’ location, direction towards north, and distances between the graves, all documented in Ingholt’s diary 3, together with the map of the necropolis he drew, it was possible to locate the hypogea and update the map [34]. The hypogea could be assigned names and ground-plans, based on the sketches and measurements from the diaries could be added to the map.

Furthermore, through the documentation on the grave of Hairan in the diaries, together with articles published by Ingholt in the years after the excavation campaigns, it was possible to create a 3D-construction of the tomb [17]. Through the information from the diaries in 1924 and 1928 as well as a sketch of the ground-plan from 1925 and water colour drawings of the wall paintings, it was possible to reconstruct a digital model.

The diaries are thus a useful resource to localize graves, contextualize finds, publish graves in detail, and to learn more about excavation practices and the daily life during and around the excavations. Together with the Ingholt Archive, the diaries form a unique research possibility to re-evaluate known structures and incorporate unknown structures into our knowledge of the city. The archive as well as the diaries, especially when researched together, are a unique source for archaeologists and historians. Both are available online for further research that will enhance our understanding of Palmyra’s archaeology and history and, at the same time, showcases the high potential that lies in the (re)evaluation of archival materials.