I would never make it as an archaeologist. I know this because I am reading Ladies of the Field and not one minute spent 'in the field' appeals to me.
Call me crazy, but I prefer a bug-free environment, hot coffee, and clean sheets.
Apparently, the seven female archaeologists of the Victorian era profiled by author Amanda Adams were not so picky.
These women were bold in a time when women were not supposed to be too educated or think too much. Mostly, they were to learn the art of housekeeping, take care of children, and be supportive of their husbands.
The women profiled are Agatha Christie, Amelia Edwards, Gertrude Bell, Harriet Boyd Hawes, Dorothy Garrod, Zelia Nuttall, and Jane Dieulafoy.
They were all born between 1831 and 1892. They all left field notes, letters, journals, and travel books that Adams drew from for the book.
Although most of the digging at that time was done in the Middle East, American Zelia Nuttall was fascinated with Mexico and the ancient Aztec civilization. She lived in a grand house just outside of Mexico City surrounded by gardens that she maintained and loved. She was more of a scholarly researcher than a woman out in the sand with her little brushes and a trowel, but she did discover the remains of an ancient sacrificial temple on an island off the coast of Veracruz.
Frenchwoman Jane Dieulafoy, was a prolific travel writer as well as an archaeologist and together with her husband spent many seasons excavating the sands of Susa in Persia. Both she and her husband wore the pants in the marriage. Jane was known for wearing fashionable men's clothing when she was in Paris and comfortable and practical men's clothing when she was in the field. She unearthed the Frieze of Lions in Susa which is on display in the Louvre today. Too bad that on the the museum's website only her husband Marcel Dieulafoy is credited with the discovery.
There is a photo of a formal portrait of each woman that opens her profile. Also, photos taken in the field or of found relics give the reader a real sense of how these women lived and what they unearthed.
My only quibble with the book is that the author speculates that some of the friendships and affections of the single women were perhaps actually lesbian relationships. I hate this propensity of modern authors to second guess the sexuality of their subjects.
These women rode horses across the deserts, carried guns for protection, fought off mice and lice, ate sand-filled food, supervised teams of workers and toiled alongside them in heat and rain and mud. They lived in tents and slept on the ground or on cots.
More power to them for finding a way to do what they loved.
Archaeology is a bit like camping with a sense of great underlying purpose and productivity; we are gathered here to uncover the past. Imagine what it was like in Victorian days to shrug off corsets and high-neck dresses. To ditch tea parties for the open road.
The story of archaeology's pioneering women captures a critical moment in time when a group of women challenged the mode of thinking that confined them. They embody a burst of daring and freedom, as much as they do the birth of a new science.