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  • Writer's pictureIsabelle Johnsen

To the Females Who Have Dug the Path For Me

I want to say that the struggle to gain prestige and respect as a woman working in archeology is not impossible. However, there are obstacles. The more we as women support our colleagues, raise awareness of gender biases in the field, and call attention to our struggles, the easier the obstacles will be to overcome. I recently ran into a publication by Margaret Wood, which argued that the archeological framework examining ancient oppressive relationships can help us build a more democratic present and future (Wood 2002). Wood outlines the benefits of a ground-up grassroots approach to democratizing archeological academia demonstrates (Wood 2002). She says we, as archeologists, must reinforce internal movements to include participative management styles within our field before focusing on the more enormous political implications of our discoveries.

It also must be noted that this blog is centered around self-identifying females, as I can only speak to my own experience. However, we must remember that people of color, transgender, and other groups of archeologists have fought even more discrimination within the field.

In this vein, I feel like writing this blog post is my attempt to underline previous traumas that my predecessors and colleagues have encountered because of their gender and thank those female archeologists who made it possible for me to participate in this field. Without these brave women who fought to participate before I came along, I would never have had this opportunity to study what I love or be taken seriously as a researcher. These women inspire me, and I feel so grateful that their crusades to gain credit for their work make it much easier for my ideas to be heard and respected.


A Note to All Those Have Dug Before Me:

This blog post is dedicated to the inspiring female mentors I’ve had throughout my archeological journey. Believe it or not, I’ve run into a few totally kick-ass women in academia during my journey through my BA and History MA at Tulane and now, my MSc program at Oxford. Obviously, I will not name them by name, but I hope they get the chance to read this in between teaching classes, raising families, and researching. I had very brief interactions with some of you, others I got to know very well, and you play a prominent role in my life. However, every single one of you left me inspired and made me excited to join the female warriors currently participating in the archeological field.

Recently, SMU conducted a study that demonstrates a correlation between the introduction of charismatic female role models and the determination of top-GPA-ranking female college students to join challenging and typically male-dominated careers (SMU 2018). On her social experiment conducted on her undergraduates during four economics classes, Dr. Daniela Serra found that it only took fifteen minutes of exposure to enthusiastic female mentors to double the number of female students enrolled in upper-level intermediate microeconomics for the following year, a class which, like the field of economics, was typically dominated by males (SMU 2018). This study reiterated what I already knew; my female mentors had solidified my determination to join this field. Furthermore, it inspired me: I want to be one of those enthusiastic role models that encourage other female archeology students one day.

By openly discussing the difficulties of being a woman within the field (the pressure to place your career before your family/personal life, the pressure to prove yourself ‘worthy,’ or the lack of institutional support surrounding gender-related issues that logistically make it harder for women to participate in academia), my female mentors gave me a gift: determination to join them and to continue to discuss these issues. Fear of being ostracized by the archeological community prevents many women from having the ability to discuss these issues with administrations, advisors, supervisors, etc. However, I want other female archeologists to know that I see them. I am grateful they fought against these gender-related challenges because they made it possible for me to participate in the field and make my own decisions about how I live my personal life, how I dress if I choose to have children, and how I identify without fear that it will destroy my academic career.

To the women who preserved, inspired, taught, published, and dug before me, I applaud you.


Examples of Previous Gender Discriminations:

Like most areas of academia, early female researchers faced an extensive amount of prejudices that made establishing their careers that much more challenging. I will not tell you about the entire history of gender discrimination or race discrimination within archeological academia. Frankly, I am not qualified to, nor do I have time to do it justice. Instead, I wanted to discuss some inspirational women within archeological academia who had to fight to gain credit for their work. I hope that their stories will illuminate the breadth of problems that all-female archeologists have tackled throughout the development of the field. Although these women have public accounts, remember that most female archeologists (especially women of color) stories remain untold. However, we must not forget that those women, too, contributed to the field and made it easier for women to join archeology today.

While surfing sites like TrowelBlazers, English Heritage, or other archeology-focused blogs, I stumbled on these stories. These websites discuss gender-related issues in the field at a much greater depth and detail than I can. Please feel free to check out my list of resources so that you can learn more about these amazing women and the overall history of gender within practitioners of archeology!

The first woman I want to discuss is Lady Aileen Fox, an Edwardian socialite. To become a totally kick-ass archeologist, she rejected her 'frivolous' feminine duties assigned to women in the 1800s. She was one of the first female lecturers in archeology at the University College of the South West at Exeter. She constantly battled with the administration and various male board members to get archeology recognized as an academic discipline (English Heritage). Her constant advocating for institutional preservation and protection of monuments and her attempts to get the University to open an official archeology department were "repeatedly thwarted." Unfortunately, it was only after she retired that the Department of Archaeology and History was set up, which was again, unfortunately, under a male professor's guidance (English Heritage).

Lady Fox

Similarly, Harriet Boyd Hawes' (1871-1945) was discouraged by male Professors during her early career while trying to join a field school in Athens (DigVentures). But she didn't let her frustration or discouragement stop her; she went right to Crete and discovered (presumably with the help of locals) the Minoan site of Gournia. She was also the second person to have the honor of the Agnes Hoppin Memorial Fellowship bestowed upon her and the very first female archeologist to speak at the Archeological Institute of America. On-site, Harriet supervised a hundred local workmen and women. She published her findings in an exemplary report still consulted today (DigVentures).

Harriet Boyd Hawes

Around the same time, Dr. Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978) became the champion of Neolithic studies. Kenyon obtained a degree in medieval studies from Oxford in 1929, where she became the first female president of the University's Archaeology Society. After WWII, she excavated at Jericho and became director of the British School of Archeology in Jerusalem (English Heritage). How freaking cool!

Hawes, Wheeler, Kenyon, and Fox were white, very privileged women. "The typical TrowelBlazer was Anglophone, White, and upper-middle-class, and had picked up a trowel for fun, not to earn a living…Careers in the "digging" sciences are still propped up on the same pillars of networks and mentorships that they were in the past" (Sapiens). When archeological work was conducted in Africa in the colonial era, it was mainly conducted outside of the continent (aka they took the artifacts back to Europe) and conducted BY mostly archeologists of European descent (Weedman 2001). While researching the first black female archeologist, I couldn't find the answer quickly. Unfortunately, white female archaeologists can be found with a quick google search while finding the untold stories of many black female archeologists must be made a priority for historians and archeologists alike.


Gender Discrimination Still Plays a Role in Archeology:

Unfortunately, there are still remnants of the challenges of early female archeologists that exist today. Gender discrimination in archeology takes on many forms and contexts. In this section, I will discuss gender discrimination in academic publications, a subject studied at length by archeologists themselves (Bardolph 2014;2018). Since I can only talk about my own experience, I include links to stories of brave women who have published on their own blog about their personal experiences with sexism in the field and discuss my personal experience working on a primarily female field crew. And include resources where you can find individual stories.

Have you ever worked on a dig? Was your field supervisor a man or woman? Did you have a lot of women on your crew? How many female archeologists publish articles versus men?

In 2006, a young aspiring archeologist named Dana Bardolph noticed that the Professor leading her dig was male, while most of the undergraduate participants were female (ScienceDaily 2014). I had a similar experience while working on a primarily female field crew under the supervision of a man who was particularly insensitive to issues of gender and race. I was very early warned about his odd, and at times, inappropriate comments on my first day, but it still came as a shock to me when he would act completely unprofessional (like the time he pressured me into eating a garden weed which had been near our excavations of the privy). Read the stories of other women’s experiences in the links below:




  4. Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, the author of Black Feminist Archeology, says that in understanding that she is “first racialized as Black and then further marginalized as a woman,” she found herself forced to “choose between two linked identities” (Truthout). Battle-Baptiste is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), and these are just a few of the issues posed in her new book “Black Feminist Archaeology” – a book in which she holds in juxtapositions the often-dueling oppression that accompanies both race and gender identity. And whereas white women have never had to fight against racism in their feminist struggle, for black women “the inability to remove race … has never been an option” (Truthout). Her website (, raises awareness for her own “adventures in the life of a Black Feminist Archeologist.”

Later, in a study inspired by her 2006 experience, Bordolph examined 4,500 American peer-reviewed archaeological journals from the last 23 years demonstrating that females were significantly less published than males, despite being an almost equal gender ratio of researchers (ScienceDaily 2014). Bardolph’s study in 2014 of the relationship between gender, identity, and patterns of authorship in peer-reviewed journals from 1990-2013 suggests that 71.4% of the articles published were lead-authored by men, while only 28.6% were by women (Bordolph 2014).

In 2018, Bardolph wrote a follow-up article in which she said that “deposit growing partly in numbers of the women represented in professional organizations and presenting research at regional/national conferences, disparities remain with respect to publication in peer-reviewed journals (Bordolph 2018). Bordoplph’s study was further updated by Health-Strout in 2020, who produced a survey that asked archeologists to provide their self-identities in terms of gender, race/ethnicity. And sexual orientation (Health Strout 2020). This survey found that despite the recent influx of female archeologists, there was still a correlation between journal prestige and the percentage of authors who are straight, white, cis-gender men '' (Health-Strout 2020). Of the female archeologists surveyed, many of them identified as cisgender, white, and heterosexual (Health-Strout 2020). Studies done last year continue to show that “the majority of studies show that men overwhelmingly submit a higher number of manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals” (Beck et al. 2021).

If you’re not an archeologist, why do you need to know about gender ratios in archeological publications? BECAUSE this is something that affects me and that affects the field's ability to be more inclusive interpretations. This all affects what you read in magazines and plaques at museums, even if you don’t realize it. Journal publications and conference attendances mean prestige in the field (Beck et al. 2021). The more prestige you have, the more funding you get to develop new ideas and transmit those ideas to the public. Have you ever read an article about archeology in the newspaper? ScienceDaily? National Geographic? Those articles came from revolutionary or famous academic publications in journals. Have you ever wondered who the author was? Who made the discovery? Who worked in the field? The public needs to take note of the fight female archeologists endured and continue to fight against discrimination in the field.


A Note for the Women Who Will Dig the Path After Me

What do you do with this depressing information as an aspiring female archeologist? You use it as inspiration. We keep fighting to be published, to get our names out there, and keep fighting to study what we love. Feel inspired by all the women that came before you because they made it possible for us to be here. We continue to fight to make the field more inclusive. Margaret Wood’s approach has inspired further movements to make archeology more inclusive, democratic, and applicable to the present and future. For example, the recent publication of Trowels in the Trenches highlights the many ways archeology can contest social injustice (Barton 2021). This approach can be recycled when examining gender discrimination in archeological academia, specifically when discussing discrepancies in female versus male ratios of publications within journals.

“Success in academic archaeology is strongly influenced by the publication of peer-reviewed articles” (Beck et al. 2021). I believe that this problem within archeological academia should be highlighted by Professors to their students. More resources need to be given, more steps need to be taken, and we all need to decide to actively publish when we can! Bardolph says that “we need to continue to explore ways to encourage new professionals from underrepresented communities and collaborators from diverse backgrounds to pursue and publish research as our discipline continues to evolve” (Bardolph 2018). In the spirit of encouraging young female archeologists to go after publications, here are some resources that may help you begin to think about repurposing your previous papers so that they would be viable for academic journals:


Resources and More Information!

Bardolph, D. N. (2014). A Critical Evaluation of Recent Gendered Publishing Trends in American Archaeology. American Antiquity, 79(3), 522–540.

Bardolph, D. N. (2018). Controlling the Narrative: A Comparative Examination of Gendered Publishing Trends in the SCA and Beyond. California Archaeology, 10(2), 159–186.

Barton, C. (2021, March 16). TROWELS IN THE TRENCHES ARCHAEOLOGY AS SOCIAL ACTIVISM. University Press of Florida: Trowels in the Trenches.

Beck, J., Gjesfjeld, E., & Chrisomalis, S. (2021). Prestige or Perish: Publishing Decisions in Academic Archaeology. American Antiquity, 86(4), 669–695.

Digging for answers: Gender inequality in archeology? (n.d.). ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from

Dorothy Garrod: Portrait of “trailblazing” archaeologist unveiled. (2019, November 13). BBC News.

Eternity, M. (n.d.). Archaeologist, Black Feminist Unearths Contributions of African Diaspora, Everyday People. Truthout. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

Five Female Archaeologists that we should be talking about. (n.d.). Five Female Archaeologists That We Should Be Talking About. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from

Hassett, B., Birch, S. P., Sykes, R. W., & Herridge, T. (2021, March 23). The Untold Stories of Archaeology’s Women. SAPIENS.

Heath-Stout, L. E. (2020). Who Writes about Archaeology? An Intersectional Study of Authorship in Archaeological Journals. American Antiquity, 85(3), 407–426.

Jul 26, & Blog, 2020 |. (n.d.). Irene Mound | Trowelblazers. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

Mar 27, Blog, 2015 |, & Review, B. (n.d.-a). Archaeology, Sexism, and Scandal | Trowelblazers. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from

Mar 27, Blog, 2015 |, & Review, B. (n.d.-b). Archaeology, Sexism, and Scandal | Trowelblazers. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

Nov 13, Archaeology, 2020 |, & Articles. (n.d.). Aïcha Gninin Touré | Trowelblazers. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

Pioneering Women in Archaeology. (2015, March 6). DigVentures.

Sasjavdv. (n.d.). #Metoo – a woman in academia & archeology – The Overdressed Archeologist. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

Six Groundbreaking Female Archaeologists. (n.d.). English Heritage. Retrieved March 9, 2022, from

Southern Methodist University. (2018). Brief exposure to charismatic career women inspires female students to pursue the same field: Easy, inexpensive experiment briefly sent inspiring role models into the intro to econ classes and sharply increased college female interest in the male-dominated, well-paying field of economics. Science Daily.

Theresa Singleton, Professor. (n.d.). Maxwell School. Retrieved March 15, 2022, from

Voss, B. L. (2000). Feminisms, Queer Theories, and the Archaeological Study of Past Sexualities. World Archaeology, 32(2), 180–192.

Weedman, K. (2001). Who’s “That Girl”: British, South African, and American Women as Africanist Archaeologists in Colonial Africa (1860s-1960s). The African Archaeological Review, 18(1), 1–47.

Where are the Black Archeologists? (n.d.). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from

Wood, M. C. (2002). Moving Towards Transformative Democratic Action Through Archaeology. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 6(3), 187–198.

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