Women and archaeology

Early Pioneers in the Field

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)
Gertrude Bell was an English archaeologist and antiquarian, Bell is seen as a phenomenal force and the ‘mother of Mesopotamian archaeology’. This was quite an achievement for her time as Mesopotamian excavations were mainly conducted by men. After completing her degree in Modern History from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, she excavated sites such as the Abbasid Palace of Ukhaidir, Iraq, Byzantine monuments in Syria, and Birbinkilise, Turkey. She also helped to found the Iraq Archaeological Museum in Baghdad using her own modest artefact collection, and also established The British School of Archaeology, Iraq. Archaeology was only one of her many attributes; she was also a writer, administrator and political officer, travelling extensively in Greater Syria, Arabia, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia. From WWI until the time of her death, Bell was the only woman holding political power, and she was highly influential to British imperial policy-making. Being both highly respected and trusted by British officials, she was given immense power for a woman at that time. With T.E Lawrence she helped to establish the Hashemite dynasties in Jordan and Iraq. Bell’s political involvements were also seen closer to home where she had a great interest in women’s rights, becoming the honorary secretary of the British Women’s Anti-Suffrage League.

Harriet Boyd Hawes (1871-1945)
Harriet Boyd Hawes was a pioneering American archaeologist, who majored in Classics and was fluent in Greek. She accepted a position in late 1900 at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts teaching Greek Archaeology until 1905. Her teaching time was interspersed with several seasons in which she rode around Crete on muleback, often alone or with a female companion into dangerous territories looking for prehistoric sites. On one of her early trips to Crete she met Charles Henry Hawes, who she went onto marry in 1906. Charles was an English archaeologist, who later became the associate director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. During the season in 1901 Hawes discovered the Bronze Age site of Gournia- the first Minoan town site ever unearthed. She spent the next three seasons excavating the site and became the first woman to direct a major field project in Greece, supervising over 100 men. She published her findings in a lavishly illustrated report, which is still consulted today and is said to be noteworthy for its classification of artefacts according to potential function for Cretan rural life of the time.

Dorothy Bate (1878-1951)
Dorothy Minola Alice Bate was a British palaeontologist and a pioneer of archaeozoology whose specialty focussed on climatic interpretation. She was a colleague of Dorothy Garrod and accompanied her on excavations at Mount Carmel in the 1920s. The colleagues published their results in two volumes, part 2: Palaeontology, the fossil Fauna of the Wady el-Mughara Caves, Bate indicates that amongst the finds recorded, was the remains of a hippopotamus. She worked extensively throughout the Mediterranean and even travelled to the Far East with ornithologist Percy R.Lowe studying Ostrich remains in China. Many leading archaeologists and anthropologists of the time relied on Dorothy’s expertise when identifying bones including that of the great anthropologist Louis Leakey. Bates’ work was recognised as so influence that in 2005 the Natural History Museum was launching a project to develop notable gallery characters; one of these was dedicated to Bate and is known as the ‘Dorothea Bate facsimile’, it tells stories and anecdotes of her life’s work and discoveries.

Hetty Goldman (1881-1972)
Hetty Goldman was an American classical archaeologist. She graduated from Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts with a PhD in archaeology in 1916. Her main focus was on Early Bronze age Eutresis, Boeotia, central Greece, though she also excavated in Asia Minor, Yugoslavia and Turkey. Goldman was the first woman to conduct an officially sanctioned excavation, in 1911 at Halae, Greece. In 1936 she became the first female professor at the ‘School of Humanistic Studies’ at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Gertrude Caton-Thompson (1888-1985)
Gertrude Caton-Thompson was born into a wealthy family where she attended private schools in Eastbourne and Paris. She attended Cambridge University following courses in anthropology and prehistory and became a research fellow at Newnham College in 1923, and again from 1934 to 1945. Her interest in archaeology resulted from a trip to Egypt with her mother in 1911; she subsequently went on to be well known for her interdisciplinary project of survey and excavation in Faiyum, Egypt. From 1928 to 1929 Caton-Thompson led an all female excavation of the famous ruins at Great Zimbabwe, Southern Rhodesia. Caton-Thompson’s findings provoked uproar with the local ‘white’ population; she concluded that the site related to a major culture of African origin, and not by biblical characters from the north or later Europeans as was assumed. Caton-Thompson’s worked greatly influenced Mary Leakey, who tagged along on archaeological expeditions at the time as an amateur archaeologist.

Dorothy Garrod (1892-1968)
Dorothy Annie Elizabeth Garrod was a British archaeologist and the daughter of the famous English physician, Sir Archibald Edward Garrod. Garrod attended Newnham College, Cambridge. She spent two seasons excavating in Gibraltar during 1925 and 1926, and in 1928 directed an expedition through South Kurdistan. Garrod then became a Research Fellow at Newnham from1929 to1932. Whilst holding this position, she and colleague Dorothy Bate excavated Zarzi in Iraq and Mount Carmel, Israel in 1928. These excavations were to prove groundbreaking. A key sequence for the Near East was established evidence showed occupation from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic, and the fossil human remains unearthed have become invaluable to the understanding of the relationship between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. By 1937 she became the first female professor in any subject at Cambridge, and probably the first recognised female prehistorian in the world in a professional status. In 1939 she was appointed the Disney Chair of Archaeology at Cambridge University, which she held until 1952. This position didn’t restrain Garrod to archaeology; she also served as a section officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Force from 1942 to 1945. In 1952 she was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and in 1965 was awarded the CBE.

Winifred Lamb (1894-1963)
Winifred Lamb was a classical archaeologist, who read at Cambridge. Lamb worked over several sites in the Aegean and Turkey, trying to establish cultural connections between islands and the Anatolian mainland. She excavated several Late Bronze Age and Archaic sites on the islands of Chios and of Thermi, Lesbos (contemporary with early Troy); she then spent a further three seasons at Kusura at Afyon (Western Turkey). Lamb’s work was also recognised back in England where she was made honorary keeper of Greek and Roman Antiquities at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge for nearly 40 years.

Virginia Randolph Grace (1901-1994)
Virginia Grace was American classical archaeologist, who became a world authority on the Roman amphora trade. After completing her MA in Classical Archaeology in 1930 from Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania she went to Asia Minor and excavated at Pergamon (a Greek city in modern-day Turkey), and Halai, Lokris, Greece, and the tombs at Lapithos in Cyprus. She became a fellow of the Agora excavation in 1932, this affiliation was to last her lifetime. Grace completed a PhD in 1934 on amphora handles at the Athenian Agora. During WWII she was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and in 1938 she won a Guggenheim (American grant) which allowed her to travel widely and study stamped amphora collections. During the war she worked with the O.S.S Greek Affairs offices in Istanbul, Cairo and Izmir. She continued to lecture and her studies amphora stamped handles. With the help of the American Research Centre in Egypt, Grace published works on the Benaki collection of Alexandria. In 1989 she was awarded the Gold Medal for Archaeological Achievement by the Archaeological Institute of America.

Anna O. Shepard (1903-1973)
Anna Shepard was an American Archaeologist who studied hard sciences and archaeology; she later went on in 1930 to study Optical Crystallography at Claremont College, California. Shepard became a specialist in Mesoamerican and Southwestern archaeology and ceramics; she was one of the pioneers of petrographic (description and classification of rocks) analysis of archaeological pottery (focussing on sherd paste, paint and temper). Most of her analysis work was done from a laboratory in her home, and she rarely went into the field, but this didn’t impede her work in any way, and she was widely published. Shepard was widely admired in her profession, even publishing a standard work – Ceramics for the Archaeologist.

Alice Kober (1906-1950)
Alice Kober was a brilliant American classical scholar and archaeologist, whose groundbreaking work helped build the foundations for the decipherment of Linear B script. Kober conducted studies on Linear B whilst working as assistant to John Myers. It was generally believed from recovered clay tablets that the writing direction of Linear B was left to right, and that scholars generally agreed it to be unknown Cretan language. It had 90 distinct characters that indicated a syllabary writing system. Many scholars had studied the symbols, almost from the time they were discovered, a few revealed some success but nothing of distinction. Kober set herself to work without the use of modern-day computers, applied a system through memory alone. She filled over 186,000 notecards with information about occurrences within the 90 characters of the Linear B script. She began to notice patterns in the writing, and identified word stems, indicating some characters as consonants, others as vowels. Kober unfortunately died two yeas before the decipherment of Linear B, but her contributions were invaluable.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985)
Tat’yana Avenirovna Proskouriakoff was born in Siberia, Russia, and then moved with her family to Pennsylvania in 1916. She graduated as an architect in 1930, but was unemployed as a result from the Great Depression. She ended up working as a museum artist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. After a visit to the Maya site of Piedras Negras, Petén, Guatemala in 1936 to 1937, Proskouriakoff dedicated the rest of her life to Maya architecture, art and hieroglyphs. She produced a number of architectural plans of Chichèn Itzá in Yucatán, Mexico and Copán, Honduras as well as a book entitled A Study of Classic Maya Sculpture. Working alone, Proskouriakoff also contributed to the decipherment of Maya hieroglyphic writing, pioneering the idea that the Maya recorded their political and dynastic histories, and not just calendrical and astronomical information.

Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978)
The daughter of Sir Fredrick Kenyon, the director of the British Museum and biblical scholar, Kenyon was a formidable British archaeologist. After reading history at Somerville College, Oxford, she joined Gertrude Caton-Thompson excavating the ruins at Great Zimbabwe, Southern Rhodesia. Back in Britain she trained on Roman sites such as that of Verulamium under Mortimer Wheeler. Kenyon became an advocate of the Wheeler method which used close control in stratigraphy to look at a site formation. With the travel restrictions of WWII, Kenyon stayed in England and contributed to the founding of the University of London’s Institute for Archaeology, where she was a lecturer in Palestinian Archaeology, combining both lecture and fieldwork experience. Using Wheelers method of excavation by stratigraphic sequencing (visible layers revealed by excavation, showing different levels of occupation), Kenyon went to the Near East where she applied it to two of the most complex and excavated sites in Palestine; that of Jericho and Jerusalem. In 1951 she became Honorary Director of the British Scholl of Archaeology in Jerusalem, her resulting work on the occupation mound in Jericho from 1952 until 1958 produced evidence that pushed back occupation dates from the Bronze Age and Neolithic, to the Natufian culture at the end of the Ice-Age (10,000-9,000 BC). Kenyon acquired worldwide fame and the site was commonly referred to as the ‘earliest town in the world’. From 1962 to1973 she served as principal at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, upon retirement in 1973 she was awarded the DBE (the female version of a knighthood). After retirement she went on to publish works on Jericho and Jerusalem, and many of her works continued to be edited and published after her death in 1978.

Mary Leakey (1913-1996)
Mary Leaky was known as the ‘cigar-smoking, whisky-drinking’ British archaeologist and Anthropologist. Mary and husband Louis work would go on to transform their field. The couple spent almost half a century carrying out meticulous excavations at various sites in East Africa, the most famous of these being Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. In 1959 Mary excavated the skull of an adult australopithecine (bipedal and dentally similar to humans), Zinjanthropus boisei, which was dated to 1.79 million years ago. After the death of Louis, Mary went onto become a leading palaeoanthropologist. During the seasons from 1976 to 1981 Mary lead her own excavations and staff at Laetoli, Tanzania, where she discovered the famous trail of fossilised hominin footprints which had been left in volcanic ashes some 3.6 million years ago.

Copyright: Joanna Winfield, 2011