Tag Archives: Flinders Petrie

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. 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

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” http://www.brown.edu/Research/Breaking_Ground/bios/Edwards_Amelia%20Blanford.pdf Retrieved. 1/8/13

“Amelia Edwards.” Wikiepdia. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amelia_Edwards. Retrieved 1/8/13