Breaking In: Women’s Representation in Archaeology

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By: Valerie Schlegel
Undergraduate Judaic Studies Major at The University of Arizona

March is Women’s History Month, which highlights the achievements women have made in a variety of disciplines. When thinking about women in the field of archeology, one wonders how often are women found in leadership positions. To answer this question, I have been looking into when, where, and how frequently women are in the position of excavation directors. Why is this important? When one looks at traditional notions of who is in charge, one finds that historically, this role has usually belonged to men. Nowadays, women are more often seen as leaders, taking positions alongside men, but this is relatively new and still somewhat unusual. That is why women have been, and still are, in the minority when it comes to directing excavations. While on my first excavation last summer, at Tel Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel, a dig co-directed by a male-female team (Dr. Nava Panitz-Cohen and Dr. Robert Mullins), I often heard how much harder it is for women than for men to break into the field of archaeology. If this is the case, then one must ask when women first began to direct digs, and how often they serve as dig directors?

Under the supervision of Prof. Beth Alpert Nakhai at The University of Arizona, I started my search by looking at female leadership on excavations that are CAP-affiliated. CAP, ASOR’s Committee on Archaeological Research and Policy, vets and affiliates excavations directed by ASOR members. CAP-affiliated excavations are expected to maintain a standard of best practices in the field and in research and publication.  The raw data for this project, gleaned from CAP files from 1967-present, was made available to Prof. Nakhai by ASOR Archivist Cynthia Rufo. Abbe Alpert did the initial work on the data, in ASOR’s Boston office.  Prof. Nakhai reviewed and organized that data and made it available to me.

ASOR’s files record CAP-affiliated excavations in countries in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean – specifically, in Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen – beginning in 1967.  (Unfortunately, no CAP files are available.) Annual records note the names of CAP-affiliated excavations, the countries in which they took place, and the names of their directors or co-directors. I looked at dig directors/co-directors, counting totals for each country by year and by gender. For the sake of this report, an excavation with the same director over a number of years was recorded as a single project but if the director changed, it was recorded as a new project.

In each country, female dig directors were the small minority. The first female co-director was in 1971 (Anita Walker at Idalion in Cyprus) and the first female director in 1976 (Robin Brown at Araq el-Amir in Jordan). Over the years, the number of female directors has grown and for some time, there has been at least one female director per year; however, the number is usually miniscule compared to the much greater number of male directors. Records indicate that overall, in Cyprus, 22% of the 24 CAP-affiliated excavations had female directors; in Israel, 23% of the 49 CAP-affiliated digs had female directors; in Jordan, 18% of the 73 CAP-affiliated digs had female directors; and, in Turkey, 22% of the nine CAP-affiliated digs had female directors. No women have led CAP-affiliated digs in Greece, Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, or Yemen, each of which had fewer than ten CAP-affiliated excavations. Nowhere is there near the level of equality that one would hope for.

The 21st century has brought only a small increase in the percentage of female excavation directors.. the percentage of women who directed field projects in all countries ranged from 21%-24%.. this number increased to 27%, due most likely to an increase in the number of excavations that affiliated with CAP. While this increase seems promising, the disparity between the number of male and female directors continues.

There is more work that I am doing in my study of gender and excavation leadership. For example, I am comparing gender and leadership in field and publication seasons separately; such data is not easily evident in CAP records. I intend to look into excavations that are not CAP-affiliated, to see how they compare to those with ASOR affiliations. Even at this early stage of my work with Prof. Nakhai, it is obvious that professional representation between women and men working in the field is not equal. In order to progress toward equality, we need to see where we have come from. While women may not be as prominent as men, I have found that there are more and more women in the field on CAP-affiliated excavations, and their number continues to increase, creating promise for the future of women in archaeology.


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2 Comments for : Breaking In: Women’s Representation in Archaeology
    • March 25

    Why restricted to CAP-affiliations? I immediately thought of names like Dorothy Garrod, Emilie Haspels, Kathleen Kenyon, Diana Kirkbride, Chrystal Bennett and even Gertrude Bell…

      • April 2

      Absolutely, you are correct, there are many women who have led excavations beyond the rubric of ASOR. My research begins by looking within ASOR, in order to define this important professional society’s history of supporting (or not supporting) women in field positions, and to identify ways in which ASOR can be a force for positive change for the future. My future research will move beyond ASOR. This blog post, written by Valerie Schlegel, an amazing undergraduate working with me, provides early data and analysis from a much larger project.