Category Archives: Mothers of the Field

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.


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

Nina Frances Layard – Something Indeed for a Lady to Have Done.

Today we’re going to talk about Nina Francis Layard and also to some degree her partner in life Mary Frances Outman. Though Mary seems to have played a traditional wifely role to Nina’s more outgoing and adventurous stereotypical male role, I do not want to downplay Mary’s contributions to Nina’s work. Before we get too far I wanted to be understood that Mary transcribed a great deal of what Nina wrote. This is not to say that Nina’s work was not her own, it’s just to say that Nina would not have accomplished as much as she had without Mary’s help. That said, there’s not much known about Mary Frances so the little that I do know I have found through my studies concerning Nina, who by all accounts deserves the reputation that she worked so hard to achieve.

Nina appears to have been quite the renaissance woman. She was born in 1853 in in Stratford, Essex, England, into a wealthy family with a long pedigree antiquarians. She herself never achieved more than a dame’s school education (White and Plunkett 2005: 4), yet throughout her life she made connections with some of the greatest names of early archaeology in England. She became the student of these great names and learned from them how best to do her own archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 6).

As a child, Nina, had an interest in shell and egg collecting which a later blossomed into the collecting of fossils (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). In 1882 she struck up a friendship with an unnamed basket maker who lived in a rock shelter along the banks of Bradford on Avon canal, who taught her how to identify and collect fossils (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). She began to discuss her finds with naturalist Leonardo Bloomfield and later with Sir John Ellor Taylor (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). She benefited from both mens tutelage and began writing academic papers. She became the first woman to have a paper presented in front of the Victorian Institute. Though this paper was delivered through a male colleague, it was received very well. This reception allowed for her to become the first woman to present her own paper to the British Association in Leeds later on (White and Plunkett 2005: 6).

Though Nina apparently showed no interest in traditional Victorian marriage, she still found a life partner in Mary Frances Outman. The two women met in 1894, when Nina was in her 40’s,  and they became both cohorts and cohabitors for the rest of their lives (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). There is no real ambiguity to their relationship, making Nina and Mary the first confirmed lesbian couple we’ve looked at.

Mary appears to have had many connections in the antiquarian community through her own family, and those connections later served both women well (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). It’s interesting to see the combination of Nina and Mary’s contacts and ambitions working so well together. Their collaboration is reminiscent of the  Dieulafoy’s where they appear to be working as equals, both with a firm interest in archaeology, building each other up for a unified success. It does seem, however, that Nina was more comfortable publishing and lecturing, which is probably why more is known about her then her partner.

Nina seriously began her study of archaeology in 1890, becoming friends with many of the larger names in archaeology in the day.  One such gentleman was Hamlet Watling, who became a major supporter of hers until his death in 1908 (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). They met in Ipswich, England, and it was here that Nina performed her first investigations at the Blackfriars and Whitefriars sites (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). These two sites were of great significance at the time because they produced evidence of both prehistoric and saxon occupation by locating walls of medieval buildings and human remains (White and Plunkett 2005: 6). Her handling of the investigations and her reports on the same helped bolster her reputation, and in 1899 she was recruited by the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 7).

During this time that she did a great deal of artifact identification either by mail, or she would go and visit them and identify the artifacts there (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). She became a recognized expert in her area and continued to grow her connections within the archaeological community. Both of these helped to continue to grow her reputation which allowed her many opportunities not available to the average woman at the time.

In 1902, when she was nearly 50, she began her excavations at the Fox Hall Road site. This excavation and her work with the flint tools found there would become the work she was best known for and would take her more than a decade to finish. It would become one of the most important excavations of her career, and because of her use of modern techniques and attention to detail, the information from the site would set her career in archaeology (White and Plunkett 2005: 8). She presented the first of three reports on the Fox Hall Road site to the Royal  Association and they accepted her work for publication in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for Great Britain and Ireland (White and Plunkett 2005: 7). This set of reports solidified her reputation in the archaeology community and allowed her to network with a core group of highly respected figures (White and Plunkett 2005: 7).

Nina manage to work on several different locations during her decade at Fox Hall. One significant location was the Hadleigh Road site, which was a prehistoric pagan cemetery that was being exposed due to a road widening project. Over 159 graves were located and the remains were sent back to the museum at the Ipswich Museum (Moir 1927: 160). The site was a wealth of information about the peoples buried there. This site was significant because Anglo-Saxon remains were rare in the Suffolk and the amount of recovered grave goods outnumbered similar sites found elsewhere (Moir 1927: 160). She was told at the time of this excavation that she would have an honorary curatorship over the remains she had recovered at the Ipswich Museum, however when it came time for her to do post excavation analysis, the museum tried to block her. It took the intervention of the honorific president Sir. Ray Lankester to finally get her curatorship fully recognized. By this time, however, she and the official curator were not on speaking terms (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). Though it does appear but she managed to repair her relationship with the official curator, she refused to leave the rooms that were given to her for curation or hand over her collections at the museum until he retired.

Nina also continue to lead two other excavations while she worked at the Ipswich Museum. She lead excavations at Larkin valley in West Suffolk, White Park Bay, and Lough Larnie in Ireland, the later lead to a joint excavation with W. J. Knowles (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). This later excavation led to the discovery of a raised beach which produced several  examples of “older series” Irish tools (White and Plunkett 2005: 9). All this work allowed her amass a large collection of comparative samples for prehistoric materials, which helped in analysis of other sites. She was also instrumental in raising popular awareness of archaeology in Ipswich by reaching out to the public and making archaeology more accessible to them.

Probably the second most important excavation of Nina’s career was the excavation at Stoke Bone Bed (Moir 1927: 106). In the 1840’s the city of Ipswich was trying to tunnel through Stoke Hill and found a large bed of fossilized animal bone. Nina was able to get permission to expose a small section of the fossils and collected a large sample (Moir 1927: 106). The fossils turned out to be the remains of rhinoceros, lion, and, mammoths among other animals as well as a large amount of worked flint (Moir 1927: 106). The discoveries at Stoke Bone Beds allowed for a new understanding of the ecology and climate of prehistoric England.

During her life, Nina accumulated many firsts, she was one of the first four women to be admitted as Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in the first year of admission, and was admitted Fellow of the Linnean Society in the second year of women’s admission. She was the first woman to be President of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia (Trowlblazers 2013). She was the first woman to present to any professional body in England. She was the first woman to publish in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for Great Britain and Ireland, and she was the first woman to curate at the Ipswich Museum. She accomplished a great deal in her long life, leading several important excavations that have had lasting impacts on the understanding of prehistoric life in England. Her methods were quite modern and very detailed, making her one of founding mothers of modern archaeological techniques (White and Plunkett 2005, Trowel Blazers 2013). This attention to detail and use of unconventional, but desirable, methods for the time gained her a reputation that served her well in her professional career.

Nina passes away at the age of 82 in her and Mary’s home in Ipswich. It’s unclear if she outlived Mary, but it is clear that the women lived together the rest of their lives, having 40 long years together, collaborating and deeply influencing the archaeological world.




Moir, J. Reid
1927    The Antiquity of Man in East Anglia. Cambridge University Press.,+Hadleigh+Road+and+Ipswich+Museum&source=bl&ots=4ZVjgEUcjG&sig=5g_nQ3xxz8k9WJ1E25KJw6cvPSg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=zZuHUo3EN5et4AOgxIHwDg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Nina%20Layard%2C%20Hadleigh%20Road%20and%20Ipswich%20Museum&f=false. Accessed 8/28/2014

White, Mark and Stephen J. Plunkett
2005    Miss Layard Excavates: a Palaeolithic site at Foxhall Road, Ipswich, 1903–1905. Western Academic and Specialist Press, Liverpool.

Trowel Blazers
Nina Layard (1853-1935): Flint Hunter, First Class. TrowelBlazers. Accessed 8/28/2014

Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope: The First Modern Excavator of the Holy Land.

Lady Stanhope dressed in men’s Turkish garb. Image via Wikicommons.

There is so much that has been written about this incredibly stunning woman. I’m not even going to try to and repeat it all, rather I’ll just link you to one of the better posts about her which is  ‘s post over at Scandalous Women. She gives a very thorough recounting of Stanhope’s life.

Briefly though, Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope was born of a fine pedigree in 1776, one of three daughters born to Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, by his first wife, Lady Hester Pitt. She was educated and outspoken. She flaunted convention in her life, never married, but took several lovers, and traveled extensively. She made a home for herself in the middle east, obtaining the title of Queen not through marriage but through presence and guile. In her height of power she maintained an army to rival any of her male contemporaries. She was a colorful individual in life and in death, and there is one aspect of this life that I want to focus on here.

In 1815, at roughly the age of 40, Stanhope led an expedition to Ashkelon which constituted the first modern archaeological excavation in Palestine.

Roman ruins at Ashkelon national park, Israel. Image via WIkicommons.


First let’s get the bad out-of-the-way, because, there appears to be a lot of bad in this at first glance. Stanhope’s supposed motivation for digging in Ashkelon (aka Tel Ashkelon, aka Ascalon) was to find a horde of gold coins supposedly buried there in the Middle Ages (Silberman 1984). She never found gold, and the only artifact recovered was a large marble statue, that she then had smashed into a thousand pieces and scattered into the sea (Silberman 1984).

Before we go further here, I want to make a few personal observations about this story. Stanhope’s supposed reasons for digging and subsequent treatment of the artifact she found seems abhorrent in a vacuum; assuming greed was her motivation and then the elimination of the one thing she found. However, a few things are being overlooked here and are being unfairly focused on in Stanhope’s case and ignored in others. For starts, many of the Victorian era expeditions were little more than snatch-and-grab jobs, where the European museums, especially the British and French, were funding expeditions to go find cool stuff, dig it out as fast as possible, and bring it back for display, basically for bragging rights. They didn’t care about the technique so much, or the local people, or the local governments. They often destroyed much more than they recovered and preserved, and honestly, they don’t get as much grief as they should for it. Schlieman, comes to mind when I think of this. Not only did he manage to dig a huge hole straight through Troy but he grossly misidentified the artifacts he did find, and then stole all the gold and valuable artifacts he recovered. History still calls him pioneer in Archeology, some refer to him as a Father of the field. I argue, if Schlieman gets this distinction, than Stanhope deserves it as well.

The start to Stanhope’s excavation began when she came into possession of a  “curious document”, which was a supposed medieval Italian manuscript that described the location of a hidden treasure buried under mosque in Ashkelon by Christians (Silberman 1984). Apparently, the manuscript was very detailed and Ashkelon was well-known as the ruins of an ancient port city (Silberman 1984). Stanhope didn’t merely march into Ashkelon and begin ripping the place apart. She submitted a request to the Ottoman government for permission and was granted the right to excavate the area (Silberman 1984). 

Keep in mind that Stanhope didn’t keep the gold a secret from the Sultan. Rather, she proposed that the gold was to become the property of the Ottoman government  after its discovery (Silberman 1984). The Sultan took the prospect of this treasure seriously, and sent a representative from his household to ‘help’ in the search (Silberman 1984). However, the singular significance of this moment should not be lost. The Ottoman’s had never given permission for any westerner to excavate in Palestine (Silberman 1984). For Stanhope to be given this chance should speak volumes for her standing with the Sultan and her perceived abilities.

To really appreciate how early this excavation was occurring, the most definitive book on the history of antiquity at the time,  J. J. Winckelmann’s (an advocate for the scientific study of archaeology) book, History of the Art of Antiquity, had only been published in 1764 and Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers (the founder of modern archaeological methods) wouldn’t be born for another 12 years.

From the history of area given in Charles Meryon’s biography of Stanhope’s dealing with the excavation, Stanhope did some amount of research before digging at Ashkelon. Learning the history of the place and looking over older French accounts of the place from 1659 (Meryon 2012:154). Meryon keeps a daily record of the excavation, detailing the trials of getting to Ashkelon, setting up camp, hiring men to work, and surveying the site. Stanhope played the most important part in all of these steps, overseeing the men and the whole of the excavation.

Just judging from the descriptions that Meryon left behind, there was a good deal of planning to the dig. Attention was paid to the remains of the building and the observations on its construction. Conclusions were made based on these observations about the sequence of construction and time periods the different layers of the excavation belonged too (Meryon  2012:154-169). These descriptions were unusually detailed with observations that were quite accurate, certainly not the hack job Stanhope is so frequently accused of (Silberman 1984, Meryon 2012:154-169). In the end however, no gold was found, and only the mostly complete statue of a man was recovered. It’s the fate of this statute where Stanhope gets the worst wrap, but I argue her actions were for a very good reason that I think sets her above other archaeologists of her time.

Muhammad Aga, the governor of Jaffa and the one overseeing Stanhope’s excavation, suspected her from the beginning of being just another English antiquarian  out on a relic finding mission (Silberman 1984). He expected her to take off with any relics she found and rush them back to Britain without concern for the Turks or the Sultan (Silberman 1984). When the statute first emerged he began to act suspiciously and it was deduced that he was planning on using the discovery of the statute as a way of blackmailing Stanhope and ruining her reputation with the Sultan (Meryon  2012:154-169). So as a way of showing him otherwise, Stanhope ordered the whole thing destroyed and thrown into the sea (Meryon  2012:154-169).

It’s interesting that the slander against Stanhope can be traced back to the apparently jealous Muhammad Aga, who resented Stanhope for her gender, her authority over him, and her interruption of his own plundering of the ruins of Ashkelon for stone and granite (Meryon  2012:154-169). After Stanhope ordered the statue destroyed, Muhammad Aga became so enraged at this loss of a tool against her that he turned around and started spreading the rumor that she had broken the statue to get the gold inside it, and then split the gold with his other superior, the Pasha of Acre (Silberman 1984). None of which was true however.

Stanhope, in her own words and the recounting of Meryon destroyed the statue to prove that she was not one of these antiquarian relic seekers, and that her only intention had always been to recover the treasure for the Sultan and Turkish people (Meryon  2012:154-169).

An extreme measure? Sure. Effective? Quite.

After the excavation Stanhold enjoyed a great deal of fame and respect from the people Syria and the Sultan (Silberman 1984, Meryon 2012:154-169), even if she received condemnation from her home country of Britain. One has to wonder though, if she had sent the statue back, if her reception at home would have been a bit warmer? Would history have treated her a little kinder if she had secured her place in the archaeological record by pillaging an excavation in the name of Britain ?

What is truly so interesting about Stanhope’s excavation at Ashkelon is how accurate she was in her observations. She and Meryon correctly analyzed the history of the structure in Ashkelon before methods of modern archaeological analyses were known or used. Silberman points out:

“In 1921, the British School of Archaeology at Jerusalem, beginning its own excavations at Ashkelon, was drawn by the very same columns and semi-circular wall that had attracted Lady Hester’s attention 106 years before.27 They likewise discovered “traces of a temple or other public building”28 which they, with the benefit of more modern archaeological techniques, began to dig.

The earliest structure, containing Corinthian columns and a row of pedestals, was dated to the time of Herod, and in this level, the foot and arm of a huge marble statue were found. By 1921, there was a much greater fund of archaeological knowledge than in Lady Hester’s time, and through comparisons with similar Roman structures at Samaria and Gerasa, the British excavators identified it as the “Bouleuterion” or municipal council hall.29 A Late Roman rebuilding above it was noted, and as for the structure’s subsequent history, “a close study of the floor levels and constructive changes over the whole area seems to indicate that the last stage saw one of the famous mosques of Askalon rising upon this historic position.”30

So Lady Hester Stanhope and Dr. Meryon were not so far wrong. They had correctly analyzed the history of the structure at a time when pure archaeological analyses were unknown. Unfortunately, the later excavators did not recognize Lady Hester’s achievements, which Dr. Meryon’s detailed yet overlooked description could have supplied. Professor John Garstang, the director of the later Ashkelon dig, ascribed to Lady Hester only “a number of stout granite columns,” calling her excavation “cursory” and not recognizing that the structure that he himself had excavated was actually hers.31”

So what can we learn from Lady Stanhope’s excavation of Ashkelon in 1815? Well, unlike what so many sources would have us believe, Stanhope was not digging the ruins in Ashkelon for her own personal greed and gain. She appeared to be doing so in order to elevate the region of the world she had come to call home, looking to return the gold to the Ottoman Sultan. Also, the destruction of the statue was done in order to prove her devotion and disprove the idea that she was just trying to pillage Palestine for Britain. Likewise, her excavations were quite methodical, well recorded for the time, and the statue was documented before it’s destruction. All of these things were unusual techniques for the time, and thus makes Stanhope’s excavation unique and valuable to history. I quite agree with Silberman’s conclusion that Stanhope’s excavation “might be rightfully called the first modern excavation in the history of archaeological exploration of the Holy Land.”

Honestly, a great deal of damage has been done to Stanhope’s reputation, especially in the area of her archeological contributions. It’s painful to me to see her work and her efforts be dismissed on the rumors that surrounded her work, and not judged on the strength of the records left behind. If we insist on calling someone like Schlieman a pioneer in the field of archaeology, and continue to teach him as a founder in our classes, then why are we ignoring someone like Stanhope, whose methods were far advanced of her time, and her reasons for digging far more noble than Schlieman’s will ever be.


Meryon, Charles Lewis
2012    Travels of Lady Hester Stanhope: Forming the Completion of Her Memoirs Volume 3. Cambridge University Press. Digital Edition. Retrieved 1/5/14

Silberman, Neil Asher

1984    Restoring the Reputation of Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope, BAR 10:04, Jul/Aug 1984.,_Neil_Asher_Silberman,_BAR_10:04,_Jul/Aug_1984. Retrieved 1/5/14

Jane Dieulafoy: The Sharpshooter of Persia

Jane Dieulafoy Image via Wiki-commons

Jane Dieulafoy is another excellent addition to our series. She’s like something out of a fiction novel. A vibrantly brave woman, born out of context with the Victorian world. Her early marriage to her partner in life, her unusual dress, and her service in the French army, all make her beyond fascinating.

Jane was born July 29, 1851 in Toulouse, France. Her father died shortly after her birth, leaving her, her four sisters, and her mother behind (Gran-Aymerich 2006:35, Adams 2010). Fortunately, she seems to have come from a well off family, and was sent to study with the Sisters of the Covent of the Assumption in Auteuil not far from Paris (Gran-Aymerich 2006:35). She excelled in her studies, learning several languages and honing skills in drawing and painting that would later serve her well (Gran-Aymerich 2006:35).

She never showed an interest in the household or womanly work, though there was one person who was able to temp her into matrimony. Marcel Dieulafoy was perhaps the only man who could have married the unorthodox Jane. Marcel was a man of action and adventure, well studied and restless a bit unorthodox himself (Gran-Aymerich 2006:36-37). Jane was 19 when they married and they agreed on a new way of life when they married, for Jane never wanted to be ruled over by any spouse (Gran-Aymerich 2006:36-37). They agreed to a marriage of equals and for the rest of their lives didn’t waver from those vows (Gran-Aymerich 2006:37).

The first test of those vows was the outbreak of war. When the war against Prussia and Germany broke out in 1870, the Prussians laid siege to the Paris walls (Adams 2010:45.) Marcel joined the Engineering corps and Jane followed after him. She dressed as a man and became a noted sharpshooter (Adams 2010:45.) She participated in every mission with Marcel and somehow managing not give away her secret (Coudart 1998, Gran-Aymerich 2006, Adams 2010).

Marcel did have a civilian job as a railroad engineer, to which he returned to after the war. Still, the world and archaeology called to them both, and the lure of adventure overseas convinced Marcel to leave his job and he and Jane went, together, to investigate Persia.

The First Persia Expedition.

The Dieulafoys first trip to Persia did not go exactly as planned; from all accounts they had rough going, poor weather, and both of them caught high fevers that persisted long after they returned home (Gran-Aymerich 2006, Adams 2010.) Despite all of this, the Dieulafoys fell in love with Persia, forging strong friendships that would serve them well later on.

Jane Dieulafoy 2
Jane on horseback. Image via Adams 2010

The Dieulafoys traveled Persia for two years starting in 1881. To all observers they were two men out on their own, left to their own devices and responsible for their own safety (Adams 2010:48.) Photography was still new and  Jane’s camera became their best ambassador, allowing them to offer photos to the local in exchange for wealth of images of their own.  Jane photographed everything; people, places, and especially buildings (Adams 2010:48.) Her photos greatly expanded the field of artifact and architectural study and eliminated the unintentional errors created by the individual interpretation by artistic depictions (Gran-Aymerich 2006:44.) These images of  Persia collected on this first trip are still considered one of the greatest of contributions of the 19th cen (Gran-Aymerich 2006:44, Adams 2010:48.)

Jane also kept a journal, recording everything that occurred during their trip and these notes came in handy when she returned home. While recovering from the fevers that accompanied them back from their first trip, Jane began her writing career. She published her writings about their travels and the early glimpse of Susa in her book Le Tour du Mond (Gran-Aymerich 2006:39, Adams 2010:48.) It was incredibly well received, and she quickly became a celebrity for her writing.

Jane wrote about everything, since everything interested her. She was a historian, archaeologist, sociologist, and political wonk (Gran-Aymerich 2006:43.) Victorian readers loved her accounts, and Jane became a celebrated woman writer. This would later influence her to create the Prix Femina in 1904 along with other well know female writers (Iranica 1995, Gran-Aymerich 2006:57, Adams 2010:60, Zagria 2012.) This award was meant to celebrate French female writers, as either gender could win the prize, but the jury was always completely female (Adams 2010:60.)

The Dig in Susa

The brief glimpse of Susa was not enough for the Dieulafoys. They knew the archaeological poetical in Susa was great, and through the use of the relationships they forged in their first expedition, and a little political muscle from Louis De Ronchaud, they were able to get permission and funding to excavate in Susa (Gran-Aymerich 2006:45, Adams 2010:49.)

The Dieulafoys and their small team reached Susa in 1885 in the spring. This time they brought with them Charles Babin, a civil engineer and Felix Houssaye, a naturalist, with them (Gran-Aymerich 2006:45.) The small team set up camp near the worksite and began the task of hiring local men to work. The crew ran towards an upwards of 300+ men from various tribes around the area, which caused conflict outside of the dig site, but inside the boundaries, the Dieulafoys managed to keep the peace (Gran-Aymerich 2006:47, Adams 2010:46.)

Jane guarding the ruins at Susa. Image via Cohen and Joukowsky 2006
“With a whip on her hip and a rifle on her shoulder.” Image via Cohen and Joukowsky 2006

It’s reposted that Jane was the one to grab a pick-ax and strike the first blow at the site (Adams 2010:51.) From there she not only lead her own massive crews, she supervised the excavation of the trenches, recorded the artifacts found, and kept the site journal (Gran-Aymerich 2006:47.) Jane’s methods of recovery mirror very closely the methods of today: plan maps, location placement, photographs, and find numbers (Gran-Aymerich 2006:48.) All that’s missing is a GPS point.

The excavations at Susa started with a reexamination of W.K. Loftus’ work earlier. During this, Marcel noticed that a layer of what Loftus called ‘sterile clay’ was really a clay cap covering the now famous Lion Frieze, which guarded the entrance to the monumental palace of Artaxerxes II (Gran-Aymerich 2006:47.) These brightly glazed bricks were meticulously recorded by Jane, marking the exact placement of each brick, which allowed for an exact reconstruction of the Frieze later on in the Louvre (Coudart 1998:68, Gran-Aymerich 2006:50.) This Frieze was the first of its kind to be found in Persia, but not the last (Gran-Aymerich 2006:47.)

The weather was harsh during the excavations. From February through March the rain was so bad they often couldn’t leave their tents (Gran-Aymerich 2006:47.) It was this same bad weather that convinced them to close the site for the season. But they would be back sooner than they expected due to politics. The Dieulafoys carefully packed all of the glazed bricks of the Lion Frieze to ship them back to Paris.  However, the customs officials of Persia refused to release the artifacts at first, despite an earlier agreement to do so (Gran-Aymerich 2006:48) The Dieulafoys, along with Babin and Houssaye returned to Persia to convince the officials to release the artifacts. Since they were already back, they all decided to return to the site at Susa and continue work.

This time the team focused on exposing the grand palace of Artaxerxes II (Gran-Aymerich 2006:49), and Jane again assumed the role of record keeper and crew leader. It was here that the team  noticed the discoloration beneath the floor stones, and upon digging into the discolored floor, found the remains of Darius I’s original palace, which had been destroyed by fire in the time of Xexes I and buried under gravel only to be restored by Artaxerxes II (Gran-Aymerich 2006:50). As they recovered both palaces, they again found a beautiful Frieze of a parade of expertly pained men, which became known as the ‘Frieze of the Immortals’ the second such frieze discovered in Persia (Gran-Aymerich 2006:50.)

“I have 14 bullets to use on you; go and fetch six more of your friends.”
Image via Chadwick 2011.

Jane’s ability to tackle any situation she found herself in was one of her best traits. One of the most famous stories about her shows this clearly. While in Susa, during the transport of supplies and artifacts across a fairly wide river, Jane was forced to cross alone on the raft weighted down with cargo. She reached the other side without incident and apparently managed to unload the raft herself. However, while waiting for Marcel and the rest of her party to join her from the other bank, Jane was attacked by 8 nomads. Thinking quickly, and no doubt relaying on her military experience, Jane drew two pistols and held the group at bay, telling them “I have 14 bullets to use on you; go and fetch six more of your friends.” The nomads were a bit taken aback and reportedly held a standoff with her for 30 minutes as the rest of her party arrived (Gran-Aymerich 2006:49.)

The Return to Paris.

After the second season came to a close in Susa, the Dieulafoys and their team returned to Paris, where they were swept up in a whirlwind of activity. The found themselves busy setting up their finds in the Louvre, giving several interviews to the French media, Marcel began presenting papers on the Susa findings, and Jane received the Medal of Honor during the opening ceremony for the Acaemenid rooms, honoring her for her contributions in the war in 1870 and her efforts in Persia (Gran-Aymerich 2006:53, Zagria 2012.)

Jane Dieulafoy 5
Image via Cohen and Joukowsky 2006

It was after this return to Paris that Jane permanently gave up women’s dress. She cut her hair short and wore only the best of Paris men’s fashion (Gran-Aymerich 2006:52 Adams 2010:56.) This is actually a stark contrast to the Jane of the past. When Jane had traveled in Persia in 1881-82, she admitted to being ashamed of her shaved head and dirty men’s clothing (Gran-Aymerich 2006:43.) Something changed during the Susa excavation to make her swear off female clothing for the rest of her life. She’d always expounded on the freedom men’s clothing afforded her, the simplicity of men’s dress, and the security being mistaken for a man gave her. Perhaps, the hassle of French Victorian women’s dress was just too much to squeeze back into after nearly ten years in men’s clothing, if so, can we really blame her?

Sadly, The Dieulafoys would never see Persia again, the political winds moved against them barring them from returning for further excavations (Gran-Aymerich 2006:56.) Still, this didn’t cure the archaeology bug. The Dieulafoys turned their attention to Spain and Portugal in 1888. Where they would work until 1914. These new investigations furthered Marcel’s original work on the oriental influence on medieval architecture in the  west, only now he worked to connect the church and the mosque (Gran-Aymerich 2006:58, Adams 2010:60.) Jane again took her trusty camera with her everywhere, again creating a vast amount of images of an unknown land.

Morocco and the First World War.

When the first signs of World War I reared its head, Jane began urging more women to get involved in the army administration. She urged that women be allowed to take over the daily administration in order to free up men for the role of solder. This suggestion was popular among the populace and had a great deal of support. However, the government and the military alike didn’t agree, demanding that a woman’s place was in the home and dismissed Jane’s efforts (Gran-Aymerich 2006:58.)

When war was declared in 1914, Jane again accompanied her husband to Morocco despite a governmental decree say that women were to stay home (Gran-Aymerich 2006:59.) Jane claims that she never received the decree, but frankly, I doubt she would have agreed to stay at home and send Marcel off on his own. Despite this small hiccup in her early relations with Marcel’s Commanding Officer, the Dieulafoys were able to convince him of the benefits of excavating the Hassan Mosque, and they were given permission to do so.

Since Marcel was still needed by the army to build the hospitals buildings and other support buildings, Jane was left to be the leader of the excavations (Gran-Aymerich 2006:59, Adams 2010:60) Through her work and direction the Hassan Mosque was quickly recovered and restored (Gran-Aymerich 2006:60). This excavation and restoration worked to create goodwill with the local people in Morocco. It impressed Marcel’s commanding officer so much he requested they plan the excavations for a new site, the Roman city of Volubilis (Gran-Aymerich 2006:60.) Originally, the Dieulafoys were to carry out the excavations themselves, but sickness finally was able to slow down Jane.

During her time in Morocco, Jane devoted her days to the excavations and her evenings to working in the Hospitals with the wounded soldiers. The war raved the French troops and created unavoidably unsanitary conditions. From this Jane contracted amoebic dysentery while aiding the recovery of French soldiers (Coudart 1998:68). Sickness didn’t slow her down at first, she managed to finish the recovery of the Hassan Mosque and then consult on the recovery efforts of Volubilis (Gran-Aymerich 2006:60.) Still the sickness eventually overcame her, and she and Marcel returned to France in an effort to see her recovered (Gran-Aymerich 2006:61, Adams 2010:61.)

Had they simply stayed in France, she may have outlived the illness, but neither she nor Marcel could keep themselves from the war effort, and they returned a final time to the front only to have Jane fall ill again. For six month Jane tried to recover from the dysentery that had a firm hold on her now. In the spring of 1919, at the age of 65, Jane died in Marcel’s arms in their home in Paris (Gran-Aymerich 2006:61, Adams 2010:61.) Death proved to be the only thing that could separate them.

For his part, Marcel missed her dearly, and gave her credit for all their work together.  He said half of his honors were hers, and without doubt, her contributions to Persian archaeology were as impactful as his (Iranica 1995.) Marcel would outlive her by only 8 months, succumbing to illness as well (Gran-Aymerich 2006:61, Adams 2010:61.)

Jane Dieulafoy 4
Image via Cohen and Joukowsky 2006

There is so much to say about Jane Dieulafoy. Fortunately, most of Jane’s journals, notes, photographs, and personal correspondences survive, so we have a very clear picture of the woman that Jane was. She didn’t see herself as an individual, she saw herself as part of a team with Marcel. From all accounts they saw each other as equals in all things, and Jane took her marriage to him very seriously. Despite being a feminist of the time, she was very much against divorce and incorporated that theme into her novel Déchéance (Iranica 1995.) She always saw herself as female despite her masculine dress. She stayed a strong advocate for women, creating literary awards for her fellow female writers and supporting women’s efforts during the war. She was constantly active in life as well, even when she couldn’t be excavating or exploring, she was writing about what she had seen and encountered. She was fiercely patriotic, participating in two wars not just because of Marcel, but because of their common love for their country.

She is an excellent addition to our Mothers of the Field because of her discoveries in Persia, her work in Morocco, and her meticulous modern recovery efforts at both locations. Her photo-documentaries and writings of Persia and Spain added much needed volumes to research of those areas. She was a skilled and capable crew chief and site supervisor, and the results of her efforts are still on display today in the Louvre in France.

For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.


Adams, Amanda

2010    Jane Dieulafoy: All Dressed up in a Men’s Suit. In Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure. Pp. 41-63. Vancover bc Canada: Greystone Books.

Arwill-Nordbladh, Elisabeth

2008    Twelve Timely Tales: On Biographies of Pioneering Women Archaeologists. Reviews in Anthropology. Vol. 37 Issue 2/3, p136-168. 33p.

Chadwick, Frank

2011    Historical Steampunkers — Jane Dieulafoy. <; Retrieved February 7, 2013.

Coudart, Anick

1998    Archaeology of French Women and French Women in Archaeology In Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology.  Margarita Diaz-Andreu and Marie Louiese Stig Sorensen, eds. Pp 61-85. New York: Routledge.

Encylopaedia Iranica

1995    Dieulafoy, Jane Henriette Magre. Encylopaedia Iranica, February 7, 2013.

Gran-Aymerich, Eve

2006    Jane Dieulafoy In Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists. Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky, eds. Pp. 34-67. University of Michigan Press.

The New York Times

1916    Mme Jane Dieulafoy Dead.; Explorer and Author Fought Through Franco-Prussian War. The New York Times, May 28, 1916. February 7, 2013.


2012    Jane Dieulafoy (1851 – 1916) photographer, archaeologist, writer. A Gender Variance Who’s Who. Retrieved February 7, 2013.

Ella Sophia Armitage – Mistress of The Norman Mottes

Ella Sophia Armitage

For our next early female archaeologist I want to introduce you to Ella Sophia Armitage.

Armitage was a particular challenge for me, as many of the women I will introduce you to will be, since there is so little known about her as a person, other than she lived. It’s aggravating  but this is the product of so many years of ignoring and downplaying the contributions of women in our society  All we can do is try to piece things back together and reconstruct what was forgotten.

Sadly, what we know about Ella is cobbled together through surviving correspondences, her academic writing, and notes.  Though we know she kept personal journals, they are lost to us. What we know we’ve pieced together from her husband’s journals, letters to her cohorts, and her apparently copious academic notes. What this gives us is a picture of a very sturdy academic mind, but very little personal information. Still, her contributions were very important in the area of Irish archaeology, in a time when the practice was in its infancy.

During the mid 91th cen in Europe there was a revival of medieval studies focusing mostly on castles from the Normand, English, and Welsh traditions (Counihan 1998).  The presence and history of Scottish and Irish castles were seen as fringe (Counihan 1998). This view caused quite the controversy in the academic community, one that Armitage weighed into fearlessly.

Ella Sophia Armitage was born Ella Sophia Bulley on 3 March 1841 in Liverpool, to Samuel Marshall Bulley, a cotton merchant, and Mary Rachel Raffles (Wiki). She enjoyed early education and encouragement to be a voracious student from a young age by her uncle Rev James Baldwin Brown (Counihan 1998), and she entered Newnham College in 1874 were she was the first ever research student (Counihan 1998).

Ella became Mrs. Armitage in 1874 when she married the Reverend Elkanah Armitage, and the couple had two children during their marriage. From 1877 to 1879 she taught history at Owens College, Manchester, and developed her interest in medieval earthworks and castles (Ogilvie 2000:54). She took copious and detailed notes during her time as a student and teacher, being recognized as an expert, her notes were  were archived by the Yorkshire Archaeological Socisites in Leeds after her death (Counihan 1998).

Armitage had a great love for Irish castles, referred to as motte-and-bailey castles, or mottes (Counihan 1998). In 1895 she and her husband along with their young son, Godfrey, took a trip to Ireland to visit Armagh, Sligo, and Dublin (Counihan 1998). Her husband was completely unimpressed with the area, but Armitage and her son spent the trip examining as many mottes as they could, returning after the trip to further explore. It was during this time that her first major paper was presented to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland by her cousin Gerard Baldwin Brown on her behalf  as women were not permitted to to speak at this time (Counihan 1998).

She also compiled a list of  Norman mottes throughout Ireland from Goddard Orpen’s translation of “The Song of Dermot and the Earl” and Sweetmen’s “Calendar of Documents Relating to Ireland 1171-1307”, then sent her nephew Basil Stallybass to inspect 62 of them (Counihan 1998). Stallybass was an architect and well acquainted with earthworks and he sent her sketches and detailed descriptions of 32 of locations (Counihan 1998). She used these notes to write several articles on the mottes over a decade or so showing that the mottes were were not constructed until after the 1066 Norman conquest of England, so they were not the burghs of the Anglo-Saxon, as had previously been thought, but actual Norman Castles (Castles, Ogilvie 2000:54). She eventually collected these articles and published them in a two part article in “The Antiquary” in August and September of 1906 (Castels). Then in 1912 in her seminal work, The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, was published along with Stallybass’ notes on his investigations.

The real battle over Irish Mottes begin with the 1902 publishing of T.J. Westropp‘s paper in the “Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy” on the ancient forts of Ireland (Counihan 1998). His  conclusions didn’t sit well with Goddard Henry Orpen, and the two began a debate in print, into which G.T. Clark was drawn (Counihan 1998). Clark’s comments drew the attention of Armitage and John Horace Round and the war of words began (Counihan 1998).  This “battle in print that spanned the Irish sea (Counihan 1998)”, apparently solidified Orpen’s and Armitage’s alliance and friendship and the two went on to collaborate and associate the rest of her life (Counihan 1998).

According to the Wiki, Armitage went on to be the assistant commissioner to James Bryce on the Royal Commission on Secondary Education to investigate girls’ education in Devon in 1894, and apparently led a full and seemingly rewarding life.

It would have been more rewarding to have a more personal look at Armitage, but I think we can draw a pretty complete picture of her from the surviving letters and notes from her. It took a very strong and forward thinking woman to not only step into a man’s world, but to challenge him in his own arena. She was certainly no shirking violet as she confronted Westropp, and others, when she believed they were wrong. She proved herself competent as a researcher, not only in college but in directing her nephew in their joint investigations of the Irish mottes. She was also not afraid to publish her own views and research, eventually proving her own ideas to be correct.

She also advocated for women’s education. She not only trail blazed with her own acceptance to Newnham College, but continued to work for the education and advancement of women though her own professorship and appointment to assistant commissioner. Her notes are still preserved for research, and her book The Early Norman Castles of the British Isles, is lauded as being one of the most important works on Normand Castles.

Ella Sophia Armitage, certainly left her mark on the world of archaeology, for that I am happy to call her a Mother of the Field.


For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.

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Comment below or send an email to


Counihan, Joan.
1998   “Mrs Ella Armitage and Isish Archaeology.” Anglo-Norman Studies: XX. Proceedings of the Battle Conference in Dublin 1997, Edited by Christopher Harper-Bill. The Boydell Press Woodbridge, Suffolk.  Retrieved Jan. 19 2013.

Ogilvie, Marilyn
2000   “Armitage, Ella Sophia A (Bulley) (1841–1931)”. The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. London: Routledge.

The Castle Studies Group
Nd      “Ella Armitage” The Castle Studies Group. Retrieved Jan. 19 2013.

Amelia Edwards – The Godmother of Egyptology

I’ve been working on this series for a little more than a year now. Crafting and changing it. I finally decided on a format about six months ago, and figured, one more relaunch was worth a try. I’ve always been suspicious when I read a book on the history of Archaeology or attend a lecture that starts with the “Fathers of Archaeology”  and never mentions women, at all, ever. I know Archaeology isn’t the only scientific field to suffer from this “man-washing” of its history. I don’t really think it’s a malicious thing, I think women have just been marginalized for so long, even other women in the different fields accept that women had no hand in forming or growing science.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Women, being about half of the population, have  always contributed to science. Some of them did paperwork, some became scholars and lecturers, some risked their lives in the pursuit of their fields. No contribution was too small.

That said, we’ve already covered Mary Anning the famous fossil hunter who provided specimens to the most renowned experts of her time and was considered an authority as well. We’ve also covered Elizabeth Philpot another early fossil expert  and dear friend of Anning, who was renowned and respected among her male peers.

Now I want to introduce you to a woman who very likely was the handmaiden of modern archaeology.

Amelia Edwards got a late start in her career as an advocate and promoter of Egyptology, at least by Victorian standards. Born to a retired army officer and a Irish mother, Amelia was taught from the start to be independent, curious, and fearless. Her mother home schooled her and refused to teach her anything about homemaking. Her mother, Alicia Edwards, apparently didn’t want to domesticate her daughter and instilled a fiercely independent streak in Amelia (Adams 2010:19).

Edwards for her part, showed an early talent for art, focusing on pencils and watercolors, and music, making a name for herself playing the Organ.  She also showed an early interest for adventure, as she would spend her summer abroad with her mother in the Irish hills and fields climbing over and investigating the ruins of the past (Adams 2010:19). She made an early living for herself as a moderately successful romance writer. She had a comfortable savings when the next phase of her life unfolded before her (Adams 2010:19).

At the age of 30, her parents died within weeks of each other, leaving Edwards completely unattached. She’d only entertained marriage once, being engaged to a nice gentlemen she felt no particular affection for. So she called off the engagement and never pursued another. She seemed happy with her lot of being a spinster, and embraced the freedoms of an unattached woman with enthusiasm (Adams 2010:21).

She decided to travel the world after her parents deaths. A decision that would land her in Egypt almost by accident and the ship she was on was seeking shelter from the bad weather. She and her traveling companion, Lucy Renshaw rented what is basically a house boat called a dahabeeyah, the Philae. She reportedly kept it up very nicely with all the luxuries a proper Victorian lady could afford (Adams 2010:23). It was while out on this Egyptian adventure that Edwards flay bloomed into her her life calling. She fell in love with Egypt, and in particularly, Egyptology. She was hungry to make her own discovery, and got her wish.

Abu Simbel drawn by Amelia Edwards 1870

Moored for two weeks at Abu Simbel,  she discovered a small square chamber (Lesko). In her excitement of the initial discovery she reportedly fell to her knees beside the small opening and began digging with her bare hands while still in her skirts. Later, hired another 50 local men from the local village to help “excavate”. Soon they were inside the small square room and she and her crew began recording the vividly painting on the walls, and they even found a human skull. Hopes were high that the room would reveal a burial chamber, but instead it seems she found a library or small chapel (Lesko) of sorts with beautifully painted walls (Adams 2010:32).

Edwards wrote about her time in Egypt in her wildly successful novel, A Thousand Miles up the Nile – A woman’s journey among the treasures of Ancient Egypt.

“A Thousand Miles up the Nile” 1891

Edwards did more than just chronicle her adventures here, she also made a plea to her readers for preservation and careful treatment of the sites in Egypt. She complained about how the delicate painting on the walls of many tombs were smudged and damaged by careless travelers and researchers (Adams 2010:32).

She also commented on the Peoples of Egypt. She expressed sympathy for the impoverished fellahin and revealed that she had considerably more understanding of the plights of the local Peoples than would be expected from someone of her background and time (Lesko).

Egypt Exploration Fund seal

Edwards eventually returned home to England, but she was much changed. She self-educated herself in hieroglyphics (Adams 2010:34), becoming a well-respected expert in the language being sent samples from all over for verification. She took great care in obtaining facts, made serious efforts in her research and self-education which set her apart from the other writers whose approach was much less informed and more sensational (Adams 2010: 36, Lesko). She also created the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882 with Reginald Stuart Poole and Sir Erasmus Wilson (Adams 2010:36, Wiki). Edwards and Poole were the honorary secretaries (Wiki).

Edwards took an early interest in one William Matthew Flinders Petrie, funding much of his work in Egypt. She often transcribed his notes for him on top of monitoring all of the publications and fundraising for the her Fund, and dealing with the early diva’s of the archaeological world (Adams 2010:35). Flinders Petrie would go on to be known as the father of modern archaeology, due to no little part to Edwards, no doubt.

Sir Flinders Petrie

Edwards spent a great deal of time dealing with the mail, publications, and promotion of the Fund, to the point of depleting her own funds, and ruining her health. Though she was easily as educated as the men she was helping craft the careers of, she received little respect. So, she hatched a new plan for the final phase of her life. Along with her new traveling companion, one Kate Bradbury, she launched herself into a wildly Ambitious speaking tour of America in 1889 (Adams 2010:37). She was well received. She was invited to speak at over 200 organizations including learned societies and major universities on the East Coast, the Midwest, as well as influential groups such as the New England Women’s Press Association. Edwards expertise as well as her speaking ability, humor and gracious personality made her a favorite among her American counterparts. During her tour she was awarded three honorary degrees from Columbia University, Smith College, and the College of the Sisters of Bethany in Topeka, Kansas (Adams 2010:38, Lesko). The content of these lectures was later published under the title Pharaohs, Fellahs, and Explorers.

Kate Bradbury Griffith

In April of 1892 Edwards succumb to complications due to exhaustion and a suppressed immunity due to her battle with breast cancer.

On her death, Edwards stipulated that her library of over 3000 books, her private collection, engravings and sketches along with 5,000 pounds go to support the Edwards Chair of Egyptology at the University Collage of London and made clear that the one appointed to the prestigious position would be William Matthew Flinders Petrie (Adams 2010:38).

An early Suffragette (Lesko, Wiki) Edwards made sure that her contribution would go to a college that Edwards had a long record of extremely liberal opinions and beliefs. She certainly was in favor of rights for women and left her money only to a school which accepted women students.

Her will stipulated not only that the professorship must go to someone under the age of 40 but that no one at the British Museum must be considered for it. In this way she assured that her candidate Petrie would be the first Edwards Professor of Egyptology. He, of course, went on to become the greatest name in the history of archaeology, a credit to his patron’s foresight and support (Lesko).

Amelia Edwards was a vibrant woman with a great love of Egypt and archaeology. She was a gifted writer and speaker, using her skills make her passions accessible to the public. You can see her as an early crusader for the preservation of archaeological treasures and surly she pushed for the refinement of archaeological methods. She was such a colorful character that she inspired the main character in  Elizabeth Peters archaeologically themed Amelia Peabody mystery series (which I highly recommend reading).

For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.


Adams, Amanda
2010    “Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure” Greystone Books. October 1, 2010

Lesko, Barbara S.
Nd   “Amelia Blanford Edwards, 1831-1892” Retrieved. 1/8/13

“Amelia Edwards.” Wikiepdia. Retrieved 1/8/13

Elizabeth Philpot : Collector of Curious Creatures

If I’m going to talk about Mary Anning, then I must also talk about her close friend and mentor, Elizabeth Philpot.

Philpot is easily as important to the early discipline of palaeontology as Anning, and easily as neglected. It’s this neglect that leaves her as little more than a footnote, still, as time passes more usually comes out about these great women, and as I find new information I will update this post.

But let’s not dwell on what we don’t know, instead let’s share what is known!

Elizabeth Philpot was born in 1780 in England, moving in 1805 to Lyme with her sisters Mary and Margarete. They cohabited in a house bought for them by their brother. The three sisters became famous for their extensive fossil collection which they kept on display in their home, and later in a Museum built by their nephew in Lyme.

Though all three sisters were responsible for the collection, it was Elizabeth who maintained correspondences with well know palaeontologists like  William BucklandWilliam Conybeare, and Henry De la Beche. She was also very knowledgeable of the science of geology and impressed its importance on a young Anning as the two became friends and partners in fossil hunting.

In 1843 Philpot and Anning worked alongside Swiss palaeontologist Louis Agassiz as he recovered and studied fossil fish. He became so impressed with their knowledge of the fossils that he wrote favorably of them in his paper on the topic and named a fossil fish species, Eugnathus philpotae, after Philpot.

Probably one of the best known inventions for Philpot was Fossil Ink. In 1826 Anning discovered a belemnite fossil with a chamber containing what looked like dried ink. She showed it to Philpot who worked to revive it using water. She then took the fossilized ink and used it to illustrate a drawing of an ichthyosaur held in her collection. This apparently sparked a new fad with other artists, using the ink in their own drawings.

Sadly, not much else is known about Elizabeth or her sisters. She has been fictionalized in  Tracy Chevalier‘s historical novel entitled Remarkable Creatures, but there is little in the history books on the Philpot sisters. Still, what is known shows that she was easily as influential to the early development of palaeontology as Anning, if for no other reason then being a mentor to the young Anning. As I said before, when I find more information on her, I will work to fill this entry out better. Until then we must be content with the Wiki entry on her, which is pretty much the only information I could find. If you know of anything else, please feel free to send it to me via email.

For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.

Women in Archaeology : Mothers of the Field

I’ve been working on this series for a long time, but untill recently, I didn’t have much of a direction beyond telling you about all the great women out there in the world of archaeology. However, while going over my notes from school, I realized something, most of the men credited with forming and practicing archaeology had wives who were with them on their expeditions, so where were their stories? Since the field of archaeology was so undefined untill recently, surely these women were equally founders of the field? So what about them?

This raised an interesting challenge for me, could I recreate the history of archaeology from the women’s perspectives? I will admit, there isn’t a whole lot out there for many of the first mothers of the field, but I won’t let that slow me down. I’ve found some interesting things just by doing this research, and I think things will get easier to research as I move to more modern times.

So with a new plan in the wing, and a new direction to move in, let’s get this series back on track!

To start I want to back up to Mary Anning, who was invaluable to the field of paleontology.  Just follow the link and read up on this incredible woman. Then I want to move forward from there and re-examine Archaeology from the female perspective.

For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.

Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter and First Female Paleontologist.

I started this little project a few months ago, and realized then that I didn’t have the time to devote to it. Still, I felt it was a worthy project. After a bit of research I decided to make it a priority project for the 2012 blogging year, and here I am, re-launching the Women in Archaeology weekly postings!

Since it’s a new year, I thought the best way to start was to present a woman who was the first and best in her field. Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter, Geologist, Naturalist. Provider of rare fossils to the great minds of her day, and the first person to discover the ichthyosaur and the plesiosaur.

Mary Anning
Mary Anning

Mary Anning

Mary Anning was born in 1799 to Richard and Mary (Molly) Anning on the southern shores of Great Britain. The cliffs at Lyme Regis, not far from her home, were rich in spectacular fossils from the seas of the Jurassic period and these fossils provided a supplementary income for the Anning family. Richard Anning spent his free time hunting fossils in these cliffs until his death in 1810[1]. He often took his children with him to look, but it was Mary, not her brother, who proved to be adept at fossil hunting.

Molly Anning took over the family business of selling fossils after her husband’s death, but the business provided little money despite the importance of the discoveries. That is, until the 1820’s when the professional fossil collector Lt.-Col. Thomas Birch met and befriended the family and was impressed by their contributions to the scientific community. He decided to hold an auction of some of his own collection and donated the money to the Anning family. He felt that the Annings should not live in such “considerable difficulty” considering that they have “found almost all the fine things, which have been submitted to scientific investigation…” [1].

By this time, Mary had established herself as the keen eye and accomplished anatomist of the family, and began taking charge of the family fossil business [1]. Mary received no formal schooling outside of some provided by her church. However she studied and read anything she could get her hands on, hand copying some manuscripts at times in such detail that it was difficult to pick the original form the copy. Thorough her own studies she became very well versed in the anatomy of fish and birds, performing her own dissections, and discussing with some of the great minds of her time [6].

Mary passed away in 1847 from breast cancer. She remained unmarried, but admired among her male peers in the geological community. Upon hearing of her cancer, the Geological Society members raised money to help with her expenses, and the newly created Dorset County Museum made her an honorary member. When she died she was buried at St. Michael’s, the local parish church.In 1850, Members of the Geological Society contributed a stained-glass window to the church in her memory. It bares an inscription reading: [5]

“This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.”[5]

Mary Anning's Window

The president of the Geological Society, Henry De la Beche, wrote the first eulogy ever written for a woman by the Society. He read and published the eulogy in the Society’s quarterly transactions. This was an honor normally only given to fellows of the society and they didn’t began admitting women until 1904 [5]. The eulogy began:

“I cannot close this notice of our losses by death without advertising to that of one, who though not placed among even the easier classes of society, but one who had to earn her daily bread by her labour, yet contributed by her talents and untiring researches in no small degree to our knowledge of the great Enalio-Saurians, and other forms of organic life entombed in the vicinity of Lyme Regis …” [5]

Mary Anning has been credited with the first discovery of ichthyosaur fossils which she found when she was 10 or 12 years old. However, her most important find was the discovery of the first plesiosaur. This discovery allowed Mary to become a legitimate and respected fossilists in the eyes of the scientific community[1].

Still, the majority of Mary’s finds were not credited to her. Which unfortunately lead to the scientific community to forget about her and her family until recently [1]. Several books have recently been published about Mary Anning including The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman whose Discoveries Changed the World by  Shelley Emling, and Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier among the most recent.

Mary’s gender and her lack of social status also contributed to her lack of recognition. Many scientists of the day could not believe that a woman of low status and no formal education could have the knowledge and skills that she did [1]. In 1824, Lady Harriet Sivester, wrote in her diary after visiting Mary Anning:

“. . . the extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved. . . It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom [1].”

High praise, but “divine favor” is used to explain how such a woman could possibly be so knowledgeable. Taking away from her hard work and hard won knowledge and skill.

In 2005, Mary Anning was awarded two honors, she was named by the Royal Society as “the third most influential female scientist in British history.” They created a list named “The Royal Society’s list of the top ten women in British history who have had the most influence on science” to celebrate the Society’s 350th anniversary and its commitment to the advancement of women in science [2]. The Society’s mentions:

 “Anning’s gender and social class prevented her from fully participating in the scientific community of early 19th century Britain, and she did not always receive full credit for her contributions…Her observations also played a key role in the discovery that coprolites, known as bezoar stones at the time, were fossilized faeces.” [2]

Also she was made by the Natural History Museum an added personality for reenactment, alongside scientists such as Carl LinnaeusDorothea Bate, and William Smith [4].

Mary’s discoveries became key pieces of evidence for a number of important developing ideas such as Extinction which was not thought possible until the early 1820. Before then, it was believed by the scientific community that animals did not become extinct, that unseen forms of life were merely still living somewhere in an unexplored region of the earth. Mary’s numerous discoveries of strange creatures helped this idea to fall to the wayside [6].

With the discovery of such creatures as The ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and pterosaur,  along with the first dinosaur fossils discovered by Gideon Mantell and William Buckland showed that creatures very different from those living today had indeed lived and died. These fossils also helped support the idea that there had been an “Age of Reptiles” when reptiles had been the dominate form of animal life [6].

Mary’s discoveries played a key role in the development of Geohistorical Analysis within geology that sought to understand the history of the earth by using evidence from fossils to reconstruct extinct organisms and the environments they lived in; this discipline eventually came to be called Paleontology [6].

Mary Anning contributed much in her short life, and she defiantly left her mark on the world. She has been called the First Paleontologist and the Heroine of Lyme Regis. She made her mark on the world and helped develop revolutionary ideas. It’s time she comes out of the shadows and allowed the recognition she deserves.

For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.


[1] Mary Anning (1799-1847). UC Berkly. Accessed Jan 2, 2012.

[2] 2003 Hudston, Jonathan.

“Lyme Regis fossil hunter Mary Anning acclaimed as top British scientist – and secret inspiration for John Fowles.” Real West Dorset Blog. Accessed Jan 2, 2012.

[3] 2001 McGowan, Christopher

The Dragon Seekers, Persus Publishing, ISBN 978-0-7382-0282-2

[4] 2005. National History Museum.

Marry Anning Sessions. Accessed Jan 2, 2012.

[5] 1995 Torrens, Hugh

“Mary Anning (1799–1847) of Lyme; ‘The Greatest Fossilist the World Ever Knew'”, The British Journal for the History of Science 25 (3): 257–284,JSTOR 4027645

[6] 2009 Emling, Shelley

The Fossil Hunter: Dinosaurs, Evolution, and the Woman whose Discoveries Changed the World, Palgrove Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-230-61156-6-

Margaret Elizabeth Ashley-Towle – Georgia’s First Professional Archaeologist

Margaret Elizabeth Ashley-Towle was not only Georgia’s first trained Archaeologist but perhaps the first female archaeologist in the south. It’s no small title to bestow on someone, but from all accounts Margaret was not only capable but admired among her male counterparts.

She was born to Claude Lordawick Ashley and Elizabeth Miller in Atlanta, Georgia on January 12, 1902. Entering into a prestigious pedigree, she none the less struck out to make a name on her own [2]. She attended Oglethorpe University in Atlanta and graduated an A.B. in English literature and a minor in journalism [2]. Afterwards, she enrolled in Columbia University in 1926, pursuing a graduate degree in anthropology and studying under Franz Boas [2].

Also that year she began excavating, working on the Indian Island site, now known as the Shinholser Mound site (9Bl2) in Baldwin County, Georgia [2]. This site is still located on the Oconee River near Milledgeville, GA [1]. This site contains two mounds dating to the Middle Mississippian Savannah period, along with artifacts from the Late Archaic, Late Mississippian Lamar, and Historic Creek Indians which have also been recovered [1]. There is also some evidence of early Spanish trade with the local Indian population [1].

Here Ashly did what all of Boas’ students were taught to do; good documentation and careful excavation. She did most of her work on Mound B and wrote a report for the Museum of the American Indian [2]. She described the stratigraphy and the recovered materials along with a few illustrations. Thought she wanted to return to the site, it’s not clear if she did or not.

In July 1927, Ashly notified Boaz that she’s spent a good deal of time traveling through Georgia and visiting sites. She formally began what she called “an archaeological survey of Georgia”, possibly meant to be her dissertation topic. At the time of the letter she had already surveyed four counties and some 500 sites [2].

In September of the same year, Ashley was asked to organize a department of archaeology for Emory University and to represent Emory in Warren K. Moorehead’s excavations at the Etowah site (9Br1) in North Georgia [2]. Ashley accepted this position and discontinued her official studies at Columbia. She assisted Moorehead until the spring of 1928, when she took over as director of the site [2]. She continued her survey of Georgia while working with Moorhead taking a field crew and investigating another 12 sites [2].

In 1929 she turned her attention to studying the pottery of the Etowah for Phillips Academy and the inevitable report became a major contribution to the Etowah Papers [2]. In it, Ashly tried unsuccessfully to use stratigraphy to separate pottery types. Still if gave her a good deal of experience that served her on other sites as wel [2]l.

Ashly conducted many, many more surveys during her time in the field. They would take pages to list them all, but at some point she bumped into or worked with just about every up and coming or already well know archaeologist in the state.

One of the last sites Ashly apparently surveyed was the Lockett Mound, now known as the Neisler site (9Tr1), located near the Flint River [2]. Ashley and her assistant Frank T. Schnell, spent three weeks at Neisler, performing major trench excavation atop the mound and surveying 250 test units [2]. Two fire pits were uncovered on the mound and fourteen burials excavated in the outlying area [2].

A great quote comes from this time. Ashly removed two burials while at the Neisler site and was asked by a reporter in attendance if they could have a bone as a “souvenir.” Ashly admonished the reporter by saying, “We do have respect for our finds.” [2] I whole-heartedly agree, it is because of this sentiment that so much of our past is preserved.

On February 18, 1930, the field lost Margaret Elizabeth Ashley as she became Margaret Elizabeth Ashley-Towle when she married Gerald Towle, a Harvard graduate and Moorehead’s top field assistant [2]. During her marriage she abandoned archaeology for some fourteen years, never to resume field work in Georgia [2]. During this time she was apparently injured severely causing her to spend the rest of her life in some pain that made field work nearly impossible [2].

In 1944, Gerald Towle died, and suddenly Ashly rejoined the field, returning to her pursuits at Columbia, this time studying ethnobotany [2]. In 1958, Margaret completed her dissertation, The Ethnobotany of Pre-Columbian Peru as Evidenced by Archaeological Materials, and received her Ph.D. Her dissertation was published as book 30 in the Viking Fund Publication in anthropology [2].  It was well received and filled a much neglected hole in archaeological study, enriching the study of agriculture in archaeology. Ashly worked for the Harvard Botanical Museum as an unpaid associate until her death on November 2, 1985 [2].

For more in this series check out Mother’s of the Field.


[1] Hammack, Stephen A. 2011. OAS members visit Shinholser Mound site. ( accessed September 06, 2011. Published by The Society for Georgia Archaeology.

[2] White, Nancy Marie, Sullivan, Lynne P., and Marrinan, Rochelle A., eds. 1999. Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in the Southeastern United States. Tallahassee: University Press of Florida.

Other Rescorces:

Etowah Indian Mounds State Historic Site (

Shnell, Frank T. and Newell O. Wright, Jr. 1993. Mississippi Period Archaeology of the Georgia Costal Plain. ( University of Georgia.

The Society for Georgia Archaeology. (

William, Mark. 2009. Mapping the Shinholser Site, 2007 ( Lamar Institute. Lamar Institute Publication

1990 Archaeological Excavations at Shinholser (9BL1): 1985 & 1987. ( Lamar Institute / University of Georgia.