#115 Women in Archaeology

A response to the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast titled, “Digging Up Women Archaeologists

Before you read this it would be helpful if you went and listened to the podcast first.  I’m only going to address the comments made at the end of the show.  The hosts asked whether there were any archaeologists listening and what experiences they’ve had as, or with, women archaeologists.  I’m willing to bet they don’t have a lot of listeners that are in CRM archaeology so I thought I’d write a blog post about it.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of women archaeologists.  In fact, I started with women archaeologists since every professor in the anthropology department at the school where I got my BA was a women.  I can’t think of a single project I’ve been on where there wasn’t at least one women.  Part of the reason for that is that up until last fall I’ve been on every project with my wife.  Now, I’ve been on plenty of all-male crews before but there has always been a women on the project.

Let me first get the “strength” issue out of the way.  I’ve never worked with a woman that didn’t give 100% and that didn’t pull her weight.  They all work just as hard as the guys do and they do a great job at it.  There are only very few instances where significant strength is even required in archaeology and there are plenty of guys that would have an issue with some of those tasks as well.

Wait, that's no woman...Also, let’s talk about getting dirty.  I think women archaeologists enjoy getting dirty more than the guys do.  Some seem to seek it out.  It’s fun to watch women and men get stupid dirty throughout the day and then clean up like normal citizens and go out at night.  I worked on a project in downtown Miami several years ago where we were pumping water out of the excavation 24 hours a day.  The water was used to water-screen every bucket of mud we pulled out of there.  Everyone was filthy at the end of the day and I never heard anyone complain.  And, most of the crew was female.  The only complaint I ever heard, and still do, was from my wife (before we started dating) when I tossed her in a mud hole.  What?  She got me muddy first!  That’s a story for another day.

What do women bring to the table?  First, perspective.  I think it helps to have points of views from all ages and genders when it comes to archaeological site interpretation.  Ten people will have ten different opinions on certain site functions and to exclude an entire gender would be silly and scientifically irresponsible.  Everyone, regardless of gender, has a valid opinion that should be considered.

Sometimes, women bring a bit of civility to a crew as well.  There are some guys that will tone down their rude comments and jokes when there is a women on the crew.  After a little while, though, everyone seems to come down to the same level of crudeness and all sense of civility is gone.  It’s inevitable.  I’ve known some women that can put anyone to shame with their sense of humor and sarcasm too.  You know who you are.

So, I guess my conclusion is that we need more women archaeologists.  There is no issue with strength, motivation, or social skills since we all know that you can teach just about anyone to survey.  The idea that we have a job that is “suitable for only men” is outdated and down right incorrect.  We need to abolish the idea of Indiana Jones and embrace Indiana Jane.  Or Lara Croft.  Or, hey, how about Gertrude Caton-Thompson, Mary Leakey, or Margaret Mead?


Thanks for reading and I’ll see you in the field.