Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology

[First posted in AWOL 20 March 2013, reposted 8 March 2017 in honour of International Women's Day]

Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology
Breaking Ground may as well have been titled “Against all Odds,” as the women archaeologists whose lives and careers we remember here faced innumerable challenges and difficulties but prevailed to contribute significantly to the expansion of our knowledge of the ancient world. Most entered this male dominated field at a time when few educational opportunities or careers were open to women. They excavated in countries where traditional, patriarchal societies did not generally allow women leadership or even public roles. Yet we found English women as early as the 19th century gaining government permissions to excavate in Egypt and Greece. We found women traveling alone through deserts and mountains and gaining acceptance from Bedouin tribes. We found them directing fieldwork using male workers whose own wives held subservient roles. The women archaeologists’ rewards were almost purely intellectual, as many received no (or almost no) compensation for their demanding jobs, but of adventure there was plenty. Their activities were arduous, often dangerous, and required determination, stamina, a love of adventure, and certainly dedication.

This database includes women from many countries (both Eastern and Western Europe, Australia, and North America) who were, not only field archaeologists, but also some of whom also taught in universities or worked as museum curators or archaeological artists or photographers. A combination of at least two of these skills is often encountered among them. Yet whenever any of them were on expeditions they all faced the same deprivations of poor housing, primitive hygiene, limited food, and long hours in severe weather sorting or washing pottery, drawing plans, keeping records, and enduring sandstorms, searing temperatures, or heavy rains. Archaeology is not glamorous, but it is adventurous and filled with the unexpected. Such a life makes more demands on the female sex, and it takes a certain type of woman to persist and succeed. By remembering the careers of these intelligent and dedicated women, we not only honor them, but also hope to encourage other women to be drawn to archaeology as a career so that the human record may continue to be pieced together in the years ahead.
This unique collection of pioneering women’s biographies includes not only field archaeologists, but also those who have been deeply involved in the discipline of archaeology: philologists, epigraphers, writers, artists, museum curators, professors, and fund raisers. Not surprisingly, most of these women were right in the middle of the archaeological process. This web project provides a broad view of how these women became major contributors to the field, at the same time crafting their own identities. The life stories of these women, their extraordinary intellectual and archaeological accomplishments, are provocative, for they transcended the cultures they lived in and, despite the struggles they faced, achieved much of enduring importance.
This project originated in 1994 as the inspiration of Professor Getzel M. Cohen of the University of Cincinnati and Professor Martha Sharp Joukowsky of Brown University. Volume I of Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists, published by the University of Michigan Presss in 2004, contains biographies of Jane Dieulafoy, Margaret Alice Murray, Gertrude Bell, Harriet Boyd Hawes, Edith Hall Dohan, Hetty Goldman, Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Dorothy Garrod, Winifred Lamb, Theresa Goell, Kathleen Kenyon, Esther Van Deman.

In Breaking Ground the impression may have been given that we have covered in full women active in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology. This misconception could not be further from the truth, and that is why this web project is devoted to additional pioneering women and their lives. This was to become a dictionary and second volume of Breaking Ground, but it inevitably grew into a volume of encyclopedic proportions.

In 2003, Martha S. Joukowsky and Barbara S. Lesko, also of Brown University, decided that the stories of these many women should become a web-based project so that it could be accessed on the web and be available to worldwide readers. Taking each biography in turn, we edited them, created abstracts for each woman and keywords so that subject searches could be made. The contributions of French, German and Italian colleagues have been left in their original language, but their abstracts are presented in English. Surely we wish for more information on each subject and we invite you the browser or reader to add your comments and suggestions, perhaps supply photos, and correct any infelicities that may have crept into these portraits.

This web project was created in part because of our frustration with traditional publishing limitations of space, and we wanted this project to complement the book Breaking Ground by presenting the stories of additional archaeological women. We welcome future submissions. Our desire is also to have this database added to with additional biographies in future years. To attempt a book length manuscript would have burst the bounds of publication. It seemed sensible to create a web-based project also for more broad and detailed coverage, not only of each woman’s life, but also to give world wide viewers a glimpse of how these professionals looked in their time and place. The bibliography of each woman is presented without which, of course, her work would not be complete.
Barbara Adams

Ruth Amiran

Jeanne-Marie Aynard

Luisa Banti

Elise Jenny Baumgartel

Martha Rhoads Bell

Sarah Belzoni

Crystal-M Bennett

Margaret Benson

Sylvia Benton

Maria Ludwika Bernhard

Margarete Bieber

Anna Maria Bisi

Elizabeth Pierce Blegen

Linda Braidwood

Maria Weigert Brendel

Olwen Brogan

Myrtle Florence Broome

Elizabeth Caskey

Amice Mary Caverley

Denise Cocquerillat

Eunice Burr Stebbins Couch

Grace Crowfoot

Nina Davies

Joan Du Plat Taylor

Elisabeth E.C.L. During Caspers

Edith Eccles

Amelia Blanford Edwards

Cleo Rickman Fitch

Caroline Galt

Tania Ghirshman

Marija Gimbutas

Michela Schiff Giorgini

Beatrice Laura Goff

Janet A. Gourlay

Virginia Grace

Claireve Grandjouan

Henriette Antonia Groenewegen-Frankfort

Lucia Guerrini

Vronwy Hankey

Margaret Masson Hardie Hasluck

Phoebe Appserson Hearst

Ida Thallon Hill

Dorothy Hill

Louise Holland

Elinor Mullett Husselman

Mary Inda Hussey

Helene Kantor

Lida Shaw King

Alice Kober

Dorothy Lamb

Lucienne Laroche

Hilda Lorimer

Ersilia Lovatelli

Grace Harriet Macurdy

Jole Bovio Marconi

Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro

Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro

Lucy Wright Mitchell

Paola Montuoro

Rosalind Moss

Margaret Munn-Rankin

Eleanor Emlen Myers

Winifred Needler

Medea Norsa

Caroline Nestmann Peck

Hilda Petrie

Bertha Porter

Natacha Rambova

Caroline Louise Ransom Williams

Isabelle Raubitschek

Marion Rawson

Elizabeth Titzel Riefstahl

Barbara Ruszczyc

Marguerite Rutten

Inez Ryberg

Nora E. Scott

Mercy Money-Coutts Seiradaki

Veronica Seton-Williams

Omm Sety

Hermine Speier

Flavia Julia Helena Augusta St. Helena

Elizabeth Stefanski

Sara Yorke Stevenson

Mary Hamilton Swindler

Lucy Talcott

Bruna Tamaro

Elizabeth Thomas

Margaret Thompson

Dorothy Burr Thompson

Jeanne Marie Threse Vandier d'Abbadie

Alice Walker

Tatiana Warsher

Helen Waterhouse

Elizabeth Augustus Whitehead

Blanche Wheeler Williams

Julia Zablocka


  1. No mention of Agatha Christie? I know she needs no promotion, but surely merits a place in the above list, having not only helped her husband excavate, but written about it.

    1. As you can see in their introduction, the editors are fully aware that the list is incomplete, and they have a way to offer suggestions for others to profile. Fill in the form and suggest ACM!