Review of ‘Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology’ edited by Margarite Diaz-Andreu and Marie Louise Stig Serensen

13th November 2013

Diaz Andreu and Stig Sorenson 1998 book coverExcavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology‘ edited by Margarite Diaz-Andreu and Marie Louise Stig Serensen, 1998, Routledge, London, xv + 320 pages. ISBN 0-415-15760-9 (hbk).

Reviewed by Katrina Stankowski

Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology, is a collection of articles aiming to answer the question, ‘what happened to the achievements of female archaeologists in Europe?’ This edited volume does just that. Each contributor has focused on their area of expertise and interest, and the result is a broad account of women archaeologists from nine countries in Europe. The editors emphasise that their study is not ‘an exhaustive account’ (p.2) of women in European archaeology. However, it begins to explore a subject that has been vastly overlooked in the histories of archaeology in Europe. This volume attempts to balance the lack of research into female archaeologists throughout the world. While publications exist about women in archaeology from both America and Australia, other countries are woefully underrepresented. This book springing from the session ‘Women in European Archaeology’ held at the Theoretical Archaeology Annual meeting in 1993 can be seen to remedy this deficiency.

The tone of the volume is set by the evocative picture of four, early twentieth century female employees at the Stockholm National Historical Museum, sitting on the elaborately carved Kungdh Bench. This eleventh century bench, carved in the Viking age style was considered an exceptional find for the museum, and the photo was obviously intended to show off its uniqueness. However, as Arwill-Nordbladh ( states ‘the picture might also be said to express other things. It shows us something about the place of women: seated within a restricted area, with clear boundaries that should not be exceeded’. This picture can be seen to be representative of a women’s place in archaeology at that time.

The book is separated into two sections. The first deals with general overviews of different countries and the place of female archaeologists in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as France (Coudart), Poland (Janik and Zawadzka), Norway (Dornrnasnes, Kleppe, Mandt and Ness), Spain (Diaz-Andreu) and Germany (Struwe). The second section deals with personal experiences of different European female archaeologists, and is very interesting reading, especially for the personal histories of some of the archaeologists, such as Hanna Ryde (Chapter 8) and Lis Jacobsen (Chapter 11). This section covers the careers and lives of both famous and obscure female archaeologists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Sweden (Arwill-Nordbladh), Britain (Champion), Greece (Picazo; Nikolaidou and Koklanidou), Denmark (Jsrgensen), Gennany (Kbtner, Maier and Schiilke) and Lithuania (Chapman). It is papers such as these that put a human face on the subject of gender in archaeology. Furthermore, in-depth studies of individuals demonstrate how motherhood and/or marriage affected their careers. This collection of papers also allows us to easily compare the lives and experiences of female archaeologists in different countries. We see that despite the differing histories of the individual countries, these women have clear parallels in their lives.

Chapter 1 provides a general overview of the book’s themes and how they are manifested in each chapter. This chapter also covers the differing time periods encompassed in this study: from the nineteenth century to 1918, the inter-war years and from post-World War I1 until the 1970s. Finally, it highlights the many historical influences that helped or hindered women in Europe in their desire to gain not only an education, but also a career.

The second chapter discusses why this book needed to be written. This chapter not only shows that women in European archaeology did exist and were respected, as well as extremely prolific in their work and publishing, but also corrects the misinterpretations that surround them. It also highlights how female archaeologists integrated themselves into the discipline, and how women who chose to make a career for themselves had an impact on the traditional social gender structure of the times.

In Chapter 3, the experiences of women in the particular countries represented in the book are discussed. This chapter deals with the history and experiences of French women who chose to become archaeologists. It also outlines the current situation in regards to gender in French archaeology where despite the fact that one out of two research positions are given to women, 60% of people hired for fieldwork are men.

Chapter 4 is the ‘first attempt to consider the contribution of women to Polish archaeology’ (p.86). It details how female archaeologists in Poland’s history have been affected by social and political events. It then goes on to mention the many women who worked in archaeology, their achievements, and finally the status of women in Polish archaeology today. Unfortunately, despite the fact that women have gained more responsibility since the end of WWII, the social expectations of becoming a wife and mother in Poland have not changed at all.

The gender status of archaeology in Norway is the subject of Chapter 5. The first female archaeologist entered the field in the 1930s in Norway. Today, the present ratio of male to female archaeologists is 1:1. This chapter analyses how this rapid rise to equality in the discipline occurred, especially in relation to the history and social expectations of the country.

Chapter 6 addresses the invisibility of Spanish women in the general history of archaeology in that country, despite their relatively high numbers in relation to men. It examines Spain’s social and political nature and its history in relation to the differing generations of women in archaeology up until the present.

The final chapter in the first section examines East German women archaeologists prior to and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It pays particular attention to the differences the fall of the wall has created in the archaeological discipline and how this has affected women in this field in the former East Germany.

The first chapter (Chapter 8) of section two, looks at the life and career of Hanna Ryde (1891–1904). Ryde was one of the foremost female archaeologists in Sweden. Arwill-Nordbladh has also looked at how Ryde’s work reflected gender ideology.

The experiences of women in Britain are discussed in Chapter 9. In particular, the work of Amelia Edwards, Margaret Muny, Gertrude Caton Thompson, Dorothy Garrod and Kathleen Kenyon is discussed. This chapter also analyses why their work seems almost invisible in the present, and the state of gender archaeology in Britain.

In the main, Chapter 10 reconsiders the works and findings of Haniet Boyd, an American archaeologist who worked at the Minoan site of Gournia in Greece. An analysis of her work in relation to gender and a discussion of her recurrent argument of the existence of matriarchy in history are also included.

Chapter 11 is an overview of the life and forgotten work of Lis Jacobsen, a Danish archaeologist in the first half of the twentieth century. Jacobson’s work on the archaeology of Runes, the history of the Danish language and the many societies she founded in Denmark made her name extremely well known. Yet, she began life as a school teacher and she advocated that a woman’s place was in the home. The chapter contains a number of tables detailing the names of all the women to graduate from various Universities in Denmark with a degree in prehistoric archaeology.

The role of both past and present Greek female archaeologists is analysed in Chapter 12. This is done by highlighting the activities of several famous Greek women, including Anna Apostolaki and Semni Karouzou. The current gender situation in Greek archaeology is also discussed, but perhaps the more important section of this chapter deals with why women and their work has been overlooked in the histories of archaeology in Greece.

Chapter 13 discusses female PhD students from the Department of Prehistory at the University of Tiibigen in Germany. The department’s history is summarised and the careers of three female archaeologists who graduated from there are highlighted (Senta Rafalski-Gierling, Marija Gimbutas and Eva Marie Bossert). This chapter demonstrates how the use of oral evidence can be invaluable in archaeological research, without it this chapter would not have the depth it has, as the researchers interviewed the above three archaeologists and their former male colleagues to gain a greater understanding of the subject.

Chapter 14, the final chapter in the book, is a profile of the one of the archaeologists mentioned the previous chapter—Marija Gimbutas. Yet, if some material is repeated, it is not to the detriment of the chapter as it is very interesting to compare how two different authors analyse the same subject. Chapman, the only male to contribute to this collection, has chosen not only to do an overview of Gimbutas’s life, but also to focus on the dominant themes that run through her work.

The presentation of this volume is extremely well done. All the photos in the book are black and white, and are of an exceptional standard. The tables are laid out in a clear and precise manner and are consequently easy to read and understand. Overall, this book is recommended for its contribution, not only to gender studies of female archaeologists in Europe, but also as a part of the bigger picture of the history of gender in archaeology throughout the world. For those interested in this subject, this volume will make a valuable addition to the reference collection. However, this book is not only a source of valuable information, it is also a very good read.

Stankowski, K.
Review of 'Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology' edited by Margarite Diaz-Andreu and Marie Louise Stig Serensen
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