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.
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.
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.
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 Elizabeth Kerri Mahon‘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.
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.
This week we’re bring back the round up. Fortunately my MAC project is over, so I can safely get back to doing other things with my time. Like learning more about how to use ArcGIS…yay. So what has Archy been up to in her long absence?
You may have seen it earlier, but I am participating in the Blogging Carnival over at Doug’s Archaeology. You can read my post here, and I encourage you to follow the link to Doug’s blog to read some of the other posts as well.
The CRM Podcast is still going strong. We had our first all woman show about a month ago, it was very well received, and the second show was equally enjoyed. In the most recent episode we’re discussing Graduate School Applications, and how to pick what you want to do with your life. You can check out all the episodes at the links, or subscribe on almost any of the podcast apps out there.
Also, I got permission to used the theme music I wanted for my own podcast, so look forward to that in the new year! (I still need a good name.)
I’ve started a new thing on Twitter that seems to be popular, it an #ArchaeologyChat! For those who don’t know what that is, it’s like a chat room on twitter, only it’s public and you have to use the hashtag to make sure your comments get seen. It’s been really great so far, we’ve had two chats now, and I’ve learned how to archive them on Storify. If you’d like to read over the last two chats, just follow the links!
I haven’t been able to get much done here, but I’ve got some interesting articles in the cue. Hopefully I’ll be able to get to those this next week and I’ll give you my take on them.
So, there you go. I’ve been pretty busy with my MAC Poster and all, and I am working on another poster for the spring. Such is life I guess, now that I’m a graduate all I do is one project after another. Still, it beats being bored!
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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 architectand 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.
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. http://bit.ly/XCJC40. Retrieved Jan. 19 2013.
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. http://www.castlestudiesgroup.org.uk/page93.html. Retrieved Jan. 19 2013.
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 Buckland, William 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.
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.
First, props to Mr. Carter for using big words in the title, no props however for making it sound like the archaeologists of the world just want to take away all the fun from poor Ric Savage and his wrecking crew of “Relic Hunters.”
For Mr. Savage, it is more a matter of earning money. Digging up artifacts is how he makes his living, though for him it is also a labor of love. Long before he wrestled, when he was growing up in Virginia as Frank Huguelet, Mr. Savage developed a passion for history.
“I’ve been a digger my whole life,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday. “But I never had the funds to get the right kind of detector or the time to go out and do it.” After he retired from wrestling more than a decade ago, he devoted himself to digging.
“When you find something of value and hold it in your hands, that’s what it’s all about for me,” he said. “It’s about touching history. You can read or watch history, but the only way you can touch or feel it is to dig it out of the ground.”
Awe, it’s a labor of love, that he’s just trying to make a quick buck at. Poor guy! He loved archaeology and history so much he decided to go into pro-wrestling and forgo an education that could have allowed him to study professionally the things he loves so much!
Keep an eye on the language used here, that’s the sticking point for me, “Labor of love”, “He Devoted Himself”, “Touching History”, and other such emotionally charged imagery to describe the poor, put-upon Mr. Savage.
This is not how the archaeologists are described, starting with the insinuation that Susan Gillespie, head of the American Anthropological Association, is more intimidating then any pro-wrestler has ever been. Mr. Carter also points out that we “argue”, we “accuse”, we only point out the negative, we only want to write papers and achieve tenure somewhere. We have boxes of artifacts that we don’t even care about anymore, just sitting around! We won’t even put them on display so people can see them! We are SO MEAN!
But sweet Mr. Savage understands us, he makes sure to do all his homework before he digs anywhere, he just wants to touch history too, and then sell it to the highest bidder. He’s so cool, he even agrees to give the property owners a cut of the money he says he’s going to make selling artifacts. He is so awesome! I am so mad at myself for ever thinking that this was a bad idea. Mr. Savage is like, an ex-wrestling, relic-hunting, angel of mercy! I was so blind!
Not to mention we archaeologists are trying to stand in the way of Spike TV’s ability to prove that all men are basically 5 year old’s, and should be treated and entertained as such. Which could be why the successful, educated, female, Dr. Gillespie is so intimidating. I mean, a woman who doesn’t stay home, make babies, and cater to her husband/boyfriend’s every need? Who does she think she is? Doesn’t she know her husband is only capable of doing the things 5 year old’s are? For shame!
The best part is the end, where Mr. Carter makes it sound like Dr. Gillespie, and other “professorial diggers” are trying to step on Mr. Savage’s Rights as an American Citizen. Making sure that his readers know that Mr. Savage has all the God given right of any true American citizen to dig holes all over this country in order to line his pockets, or so says Spike TV.
I’d kinda given up on the New York Times as being anything more then a yellow-rag a long time ago, especially when it comes to it’s online content. This article just renews that for me. Not only is is obviously one-sided, it’s sexist to both men and women, and insulting to anyone with more then a high school degree. Thanks for not changing for the better, New York Times, keep it classy!
It’s International Women’s Day today, and I thought that to celebrate I would bring you the first Women in Archaeology post about a living woman!
K. Kris Hirst was kind enough to let me interview her, and I know she’s busy, so this was extra nice of her. Hirst is a content provider over at About.com, where she writes the Archaeology section of the site, and is a science writer and editor for a variety of journals and books. She’s been at it since 1997, you know, when the internet got big. I have to admit, I’ve been to this site more then once looking up hard to find facts, I’ve been pretty impressed. Her site covers concepts, careers, human history, sites of interest and more. It’s a pretty solid site, and that’s Hirst ‘s contribution to the field.
Archaeology isn’t immune to the new information age, and trust me, there is lots of bad information out there, but this site does a great job of putting things back into perspective and answers questions. Our problem is, until recently , the people who know the most about archaeology, apparently didn’t know much about the internet or social media, Hirst knows both. Hirst ‘s site works to provide information to the curious and educate those that want to learn. She puts it all out there and makes it accessible to the public. Something the field is still struggling with, in my opinion. Hirst has been doing this for 15 years now, she may not have been the very first, but she is certainly one of the best.
So lets get to the intervew!
I really toiled with this, I wanted to edit it and make it more like the formats of my past posts, but Hirst has such a great personality, I was afraid that it would get lost in my editing. So I decided to go a minimalist route, here with minimal editing is the full email interview with K. Kris Hirst:
AF: Where and when were you born?
KH: I was born in a little log cabin—oh, no, that’s Abe Lincoln. I was born in Illinois, on Abraham Lincoln’s (and Charles Darwin’s) birthday. I’m not as old as those guys—I was born in 1954.
AF: Do you have any interesting childhood stories pertaining to archaeology?
KH: The earliest I can remember knowing about archaeology is when my parents took us to Dixon Mounds, a Mississippian burial mound that was open to the public. The burials are now closed, of course, and there’s a terrific museum, which is better for all concerned. You learn more now about the people and how they lived—but I have to admit I was fascinated by human bones. I also had a junior high school pal who knew she wanted to be an archaeologist even then—Linda Derry. But basically I was a moony introvert who kept her nose in books and wandered around the scrubby suburban woods, with no thought to future careers—besides writing, of course.
AF: Where did you go to college and when did you graduate?
KH: I went to Illinois State as an English-Education-Theatre major, and graduated in 1978 with a BS in Education with three majors and five minors. I took an MA in Anthro from the University of Iowa in 1985. Started a PhD at University of Wisconsin, but bombed out, for a variety of reasons some of which have to do with being an inveterate generalist.
AF: Do you have any interesting stories about your time in school?
KH: My favorite thing about undergraduate school was I had no clue what I wanted to do, and ISU was big enough that nobody was watching me, so I could and did take courses in everything (except, oddly enough, archaeology or journalism). I remember sitting in a graduate level classroom at Iowa when one of the students perked up and said he got into archaeology because of Indiana Jones—that was right after the first movie came out (and no, I don’t remember if he actually followed through with his career). I remember pronouncing Oaxaca “Wox-a-co” in a graduate level theory class, much to the amusement of my classmates. Since I didn’t have a single course in archaeology before embarking on my MA, I spent every waking hour in the university library, reading all the current journals and going back some 20 years. I really liked doing that, total immersion type study, and I still keep current with about 80 journals a year.
AF: Do you have any suggestions for students who might be seeking a degree in Archaeology?
KH: Yeah, don’t do what I did. Pick a subject and learn it in depth. To be a successful archaeologist, you need to specialize: I’m a writer.
AF: Can you tell me a little about your professional career?
KH: My first excavation was at Plum Grove, the first territorial governor of Iowa, my first advisor was the Mesoamericanist Tom Charlton. He was wonderfully supportive and I’m grateful to this day for his belief in my weird turn of careers—not all my advisors were happy that I left archaeology to work on the Internet. I met Lewis Binford once (he was rude to every graduate student in those days); I met Sandra Olsen and briefly entertained the notion of specializing in mussel shell research (following along in her footsteps in usewear on bones); I embarrassed myself in front of George Quimby by meeting him once and having complete brain death about his vast and important work (they call it “l’esprit d’escalier” if you’ve been insulted, I was just crazy tired); and I met Ofer Bar-Yosef and just about fainted. As a grad student I loved going to meetings and staying up until 3:00 am singing dig songs. (Do they still do that?) (AF: Yes they do, and they have archaeology themed bands now): I still like going to meetings, but now I go find sessions to kibbutz on subjects I know nothing about. The SAA is great for that, 17 concurrent sessions! Hoo boy! My favorite conference was WAC in South Africa in 1999. That was flat out wonderful.
AF: Can you tell me how archaeology impacted your life both professional and personal (if you don’t mind sharing).
KH: Archaeology provided me with something to write about. I was going to be a writer, from the time I was maybe 9 and first read Madeleine L’Engle, and I went to undergraduate school with a vague notion I was shopping around for something to write about. I didn’t find anything that tripped my trigger until I got into archaeology: imagine, it encompasses everything, every bit of human knowledge—but they don’t teach it in high school! How crazy is that? But if we’re talking transformative experiences, the opportunity to work at About.com, where I’ve been since 1997, has simply changed everything. If I’d stayed in archaeology (I worked in the field for 20 years), you wouldn’t be asking me these questions.
AF: Do you think there were and/or are any obstacles unique to women in the field. If so, what did you do to overcome them?
KH: Where I went to school there was a famous woman anthropologist, and I went to her to talk to her about how you overcome those issues. She threw me out of her office: she was of the school that said, if I did it by myself, so can you. I think that’s wrong, but, she was, like me, ensconced in her own era. I bombed out of Madison, but not because of my gender. It was a tough time for graduate students there. I sort of regret not moving to another school and trying again—but I just didn’t have the money and I was pretty disheartened. I got passed over for promotion a couple of times when I was working in CRM, and I was disappointed at the time, but I think if all of these less-than-ideal experiences had any effect, they kept me from being “just” an archaeologist. Don’t get me wrong—I loved being in archaeology, but I needed to write.
AF: Can you tell me a little about what made you chose to leave the field and become a science writer? How has that affected your life?
KH: In 1995, I was already fascinated by the Internet. I remember I was in my boss’s office at the State Archaeologist’s Office in Iowa, and he showed us the website for Lascaux Cave. I started working on the OSA’s nascent website, writing and designing webpages (I’m not visual, so that didn’t go too far). In late 1996, I heard through the CNET grapevine that there was this new company called “the Mining Company” that was planning on hiring a bunch of specialists to “mine the web” and find the best resources available in their areas of expertise. I was pretty interested, but also pretty skeptical (as somebody once asked me, suspiciously, why would a mining company be interested in archaeology?) But in March of 1997, the site went live and it was wonderful, and so I signed up to be the archaeologist, and went through a rigorous training schedule. My site went live on July 9, 1997.
At first, we were just supposed to write about what other people were doing on the web, but it soon morphed into writing about our topics. We changed our name to About.com, went public and were bought by the New York Times Company in 2001. I love working here, even after nearly 15 years. I was really lucky to find a place where I could write on anything I wanted to, and have a substantial audience, with somebody else doing the marketing and site design for me.
AF: How did your training as an archaeologist prepare you for the challenges of science writing?
KH: To some extent, it ruined me as a science writer. I’m truly fascinated and want to learn everything I can about archaeology and the history and prehistory that you are all researching and reporting on, wherever and whenever in the world that might be. But, there are very limited openings for “archaeology writer” in science writing, for the same reason I got into it—the things that really sell well in mass markets about archaeology are the very oldest stuff or the richest find or the spookiest, nuttiest theory about aliens or end of the world fantasies. None of that interests me. If you’re smart as a science writer, you write about archaeology but also about biology and chemistry and botany and physics. I’m at once too narrow and too broad to be really successful as a science writer. Plus, I split infinitives. But, I found in my archaeology studies a wealth of nuance and so many interesting science-based stories that to this day I write something like 60,000 words a month, at least, and never, never, never run out of ideas.
Another truth about science writing: many, many newspapers and magazines have ditched their science writer staffs, and a lot of really terrific science writers who once had staff positions are now scrambling for freelance jobs. It’s not a good economy for anyone. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love and getting paid for it.
AF: Do you have any interesting stories about being a science writer?
KH: I was at an SAA meeting once, wearing my About.com name tag, when somebody came up and said, I know About.com, what do you write for them? I said (duh) archaeology, and the guy pulled away from me like I’d told him I was running for political office. I turned around and there was Jerry Sabloff, president of the SAA, and he said “Hi Kris, what are you writing these days”. That’s kind of the life I lead, shame and glory, glory and shame, closely intertwined <grin>. I’ve met a lot of really great science writers, including of course the fabulous Brian Fagan, but also more generalist science writers who are all my role models, like Nicholas Wade and Heather Pringle and Ann Gibbons and Michael Balter. Lots of others.
AF: What’s your next step in your career?
KH: In 2005 I quit my day job to become a fulltime freelance writer, and in 2009 I had to go back to work because of the economy (George Bush has a lot to answer for). I want to go back to being a fulltime freelancer. The day job (which isn’t in archaeology) puts a crimp in my ability to do anything but write—I have no social life, except my husband and I go out for pizza occasionally. No time for social networking, either: I’m hideously in arrears over my Twitter and Facebook responsibilities, and worse—I can’t keep up with anybody else who is writing for the web. Sorry! Someday, I’ll be back there. In the meantime, I still get to write, and my productivity and traffic are satisfyingly huge, so I’m pretty happy, by and large. I’d like to travel a bit more than we have in the past, but career wise, I like being a freelance writer best of all. Of course, if somebody would offer me an endowed chair in public archaeology at Oxford, I’d probably accept. Or at least mull it over. Carefully.
AF: Do you have any publications in your name that you would like me to mention?
KH: I edited a collection of quotations for Left Coast Press a couple of years ago (The Archaeologist’s Book of Quotations), and I recently had a gig on the advisory board of the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Archaeology (2nd edition), for which I also updated an article on PreClovis. I wrote a biographical sketch of myself (hmm) for the SAA Record a couple of years back, and some pieces for Science and Archaeology magazines. But, by and large, I write on the Internet.
AF: Is there anything else you want to share?
KH: I have a great recipe for Greek chicken, but… another time. Two words: sun-dried tomatoes.
Again, I want to thank Hirst for her time, check out her site at http://archaeology.about.com/. Next time we’ll be getting that Greek chicken recipe.