Lina Dorina Johanna Eckenstein – The Polymath of Egypt

Little is really known about Lina Eckenstein as an archaeologist, despite what could be considered her second most important contribution being her work with Hilda Petrie, her husband Flinders Petrie, and Margaret Murray working in Egypt.

Eckenstein was a vibrant woman, a religious skeptic, a rebel of her time, and described as a “New Woman” in the Victorian era (Oldfield 2004). She was born in 1857 to German immigrants to England, who manged to make a comfortable life for themselves and their three children as merchants (Oldfield 2004, Johnson 2006:55). Though there is no record of her formal education, it’s clearly evident that Eckenstein was well educated in her formative years, mastering several langues aside from her native English and German (Oldfield 2004, Johnson 2006:55). It’s also clear that aside from learning Latin, Italian, French, Middle High German, Middle English, and Greek, she had some familiarity with Egyptian Hieroglyphics, though not on the level of Margaret Murray (Oldfield 2004, Johnson 2006:55).

It’s plain from the little written about her that her first passion was Feminism and Women’s Rights. Everything she did managed to fold back onto this first love. In her early life she spent time intellectualizing on the aspects of sexual practices of ancient Romans and during the Reformation period in Switzerland, and the state regulation of prostitution (Oldfield 2004). Hardly what was considered appropriate fro young women in her time. She made a living for herself, proofreading, teaching, translating and being a research assistant to preeminent male researchers of her time (Oldfield 2004). This close relationship with the academic world allowed her to build strong friendships with influential benefactors. These friendships allowed her to travel widely and experience more than the average woman of today, let alone the late 1800’s.

After a stint as governess to Margery Corbett, no doubt influencing the future Dame Ashby to become a leading suffragist, she turned her focus for a time to the world of Egyptology (Oldfield 2004). Among Eckenstein’s caudry of friends was Hilda and Flinders Petrie, both well known and respected Egyptologists. Flinders, being more progressive than many of his contemporaries, frequently had women on his excavations, and as Eckenstein was a close friend, he routinely had her accompany him and his wife on their expeditions to Egypt.

Eckenstein was in charge of recording, preserving, and preparing artifacts for transport on the Petrie’s digs. She “took charge of the registration, mending and storing of objects and helped in the general running of the camp (Drower 2006:268)” at Abydos, Sethos, Saqqara, El Shatt, and Serabit (Drower 2006:268, Cool Root 2006:22). She also participated in protecting the sites from would-be vandals in novel ways. In one such incident she joined hands with Hilda Petrie and Margaret Murray and dance from the camp all the way to the dig site during an attempted nighttime raid (Oldfield 2004). The apparition of three women dancing freely in the moonlight was enough to scare the would-be-plunder s away (Oldfield 2004).

She and Hilda Petrie seemed to be good traveling partners. They were known to don whips, revolvers, and water bottles and travel via camel-back across rough mountain country and sandstone gorges (Oldfield 2004). Eckenstein and Hilda Petrie seem to be the backbone of the digs they attended. Hilda taking control of the workers and leading expeditions, and Eckenstein recording it all and making sure what was found made it safely to where ever it was meant to go (Drower 2006:268). Both of them defending the sites they excavated and interpreting the finds made there-in. They must have been quite the powerhouse of a team.

Eckenstein later retired from archaeology and drew from her experiences to write historical and imaginative stories about Egypt, ‘The moon cult in Sinai’ (1911), ‘A History of Sinai’ (1921), and a fable about Moses’s youth under the pharaohs (1924). She also wrote ‘Comparative Studies in Nursery Rhymes’ (1906) based on a scene she observed in the temple of King Seti that reminded her of the children’s rhyme of ‘The Death and Burial of Cock Robin’, which would have been written some 3000 years after the scene was painted (Oldfield 2004). This definitive work of Eckenstein would pre-date the Opies‘ authoritative work by 50 years (Oldfield 2004).

Eckenstein’s most lasting contributions came when she turned her attention to medieval Monastic Women. She resurrected the lives and writings of important historical figures like Hildegard von Bingen and Abbess Charitas Pirckheimer (Johnson 2005:60). Her most famous work on this topic was the still influential ‘Women Under Monasticism: Chapters on Saint-Lore and Convent Life between A.D 500 and A.D 1500’ published in 1896 (Johnson 2005:60). In true feminist fashion she not only brought their writings back to light, but also compared their lives with issues occurring in her own time. Because of her thorough and groundbreaking research, her contributions in Medieval studies are considered valuable today (Johnson 2005:60).

Eckenstein passed away in May of 1931 with two active projects that were later published after her death (Oldfield 2004, Johnson 2006:57). She was 74 and left behind her volumes of work that contributed to every field she chose to focus on. She could be considered a mother of several fields, but here we laud her work in Archaeology.

Resources:

Sybil Oldfield,
2004    Eckenstein, Lina Dorina Johanna (1857–1931)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2014. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/59940. Accessed 3/10/15

Cool Root,  Margaret
2006    Introduction. Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists. ed. Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky. University of Michigan Press 2004.

Drower, Margaret S.
2006    Margaret Alice Murray (1863-1963). Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists. ed. Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky. University of Michigan Press 2004.

Johnson. Penelope D.
2005    Lina Eckenstein (1857-1931) Seeking Scope for Women. Women Medievalists and the Academy. ed Jane Chance. The University of Wisconsion Press, Madison, Wisconson. 2005. Chapter 4. pgs 56-66 https://books.google.com/books?id=5QrnjT2NT5MC&pg=PA66&lpg=PA66&dq=Lina+Eckenstein+archaeology&source=bl&ots=hmB9kPvsE3&sig=GJUFUUhxm4gpmwB8iO07j9p6qCc&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tnP2VIO2JNCuogSMhYHQAg&ved=0CEYQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=Lina%20Eckenstein%20archaeology&f=false  Accessed 3/10/15

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Categories: Mothers of the Field, Women in Archaeology | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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