Pioneering Women in Archaeology

Women Archaeology Early Days

Back in the days when archaeology was a developing discipline, it was – like so many things – dominated by men. Or so you would think if you only looked at Wikipedia’s archaeology page.

In fact, some of the discipline’s most significant early developments were forged by women. These are just a handful of some of the boldest, most kickass women from the early days of archaeology who were determined to push things forward in new and important ways.

Jane rigorously deployed new field recording techniques… this is a science people!


Jane Dieulafoy (1851-1916) was far from the typical vision of a French Victorian lady. She fought in the Franco-Prussian War along with her husband, traveled the world, and supervised their excavation at Susa, Persia, while labeling, mapping and reconstructing their finds – all brand new field recording methods back then.

Gertrude argued that heritage should not just be taken out of its country of origin willy nilly

gertrude bell

Often referred to as the ‘Mother of Mesopotamian Archaeology’, Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) excavated several sites in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. She became a political officer that helped shape the future of Iraq. As a Director of Antiquities in Iraq, she founded the Iraq Archaeological Museum in Baghdad in 1926 and was a pioneer in the movement to keep national heritage in its country of origin.

Harriet would not be stopped from going to fieldschool just because she was a girl

Harriet Hawes

As an archaeology student, American Harriet Boyd Hawes’ (1871-1945) professors refused to support her joining the field school in Athens. But Harriet gave not a single f**k and went to Crete instead, which paid off when (among other sites) she later discovered Gournia, the first Minoan settlement ever unearthed. On site, Harriet supervised a hundred local workmen and women, and published her findings in an exemplary report that is still consulted today.

Maria applied maths to archaeology and brought the Nazca Lines to the attention of people all around the world

maria reiche

Maria Reiche (1903-1998) was a German mathematician, which came in handy when she began researching Peru’s Nazca Lines in 1940. After demonstrating their sophisticated mathematical accuracy, she published the theory that they related to astronomy. And she didn’t just bring them to Western scholarly attention – Maria helped protect them by getting them preserved and communicating their significance to people all around the world.

Kathleen became the leading archaeologist of the Neolithic Near East of her time

Kathleen Kenyon

Starting out as the first female president of the Oxford University Archaeological Society, Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978) worked in the field with Mortimer Wheeler and became the leading English archaeologist of the Neolithic Near East, and it was her work at Jericho that led to it being recognized as the oldest continuously occupied settlement in history at the time.

Tatiana did some awesome work which led to the Mayan hieroglyphs being decoded


Russian-born Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985) started as an architect before turning her attention to the Mayan architecture, producing reconstructive plans and drawings. But it was Tatiana’s pioneering suggestion that the Maya hieroglyphs also contained dynastic histories, apart from calendrical information, that enabled the hieroglyphs to be deciphered.

Jacquetta argued that Minoan society was ruled by women… and pioneered a new kind of multi-media public archaeology

Jacquetta Hawkes 2

After digging in England, Ireland and Palestine, Jacquetta Hawkes (1910-1996) became a pioneering public archaeologist. Not only did she apply a more humanistic interpretation of archaeological evidence, but when she put forward the theory that Minoan society might have been ruled by women, she did it using every medium she could get her hands on – books, newspaper articles, TV interviews and radio.

These and many other women (seriously, there are loads – just check them out on TrowelBlazers) not only made it possible for the next generation to enter the world of archaeology, but changed the way the discipline was practised – stay tuned for more news about today’s pioneering archaeologists!

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Written by Maria Pakholok

Maria loves all things archaeological. Having graduated with an MA in public archaeology, dug a Roman site in Macedonia, fundraised for the historic building of Lauderdale House and excited visitors at the Hands-On Desk at the British Museum, Maria’s true passion is bringing archaeology to the people – in one way or another. Twitter: @mariapakholok

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