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.

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Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists
Published by the University of Michigan Press, 2004