Treasure Hunters: Early Female Archeologists

Book: Ladies of the Field

Does archeology peak your interest?  Is it fascinating, even though you know it’s hot, dusty work?  Maybe you are an avid fan of the National Treasure movies; still hopeful that you, too, will encounter a treasure hunt some day?

I also crave such adventure, and so I found my kindred spirits in a new non-fiction by Amanda Adams called Ladies of the Field; Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure (c2010 by Greystone Books). Adams writes essays on seven fascinating women from the Victorian era.  Each blazed her own trail and contributed significant research in a relatively new field, dominated by men.

In a nutshell—each was a character!  Many of them were prolific writers, highly educated, and strong-willed.  Most of them stumbled into archeology later in life, after successfully pursuing other endeavors.

*Amelia Edwards traveled the Nile River and founded the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882 and recruited the well known archeologist Sir Petrie.

*Gertrude Bell dressed prettily as she romped through Middle-Eastern desert ruins (such as the city of Petra, later the backdrop to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

 *Parisian, Jane Dieulafoy, mimicked her husband’s style of dress (to a Charlie Chaplin effect) as they tackled the treasures of the Orient.

 *Zelia Nuttall purchased a plantation in Mexico atop an Aztec ruin, and started a school of archeology in South America.

 *Harriet Boyd Hawes left America for Greece, managed hundreds of men at a massive site in Gournia, and still published research while raising children.

 *Agatha Christie, famed mystery writer, spent thirty years assisting her husband’s work in the Middle East—while squeezing in the occasional book, such as the archeology-based Murder on the Oriental Express and Death on the Nile.

 *Dorothy Garrod, a quiet, single woman, used carbon dating in her Paleolithic studies in Jordan, and often employed exclusively female field workers.

 According to Adams, Victorian-era archeology began to turn “from treasure seeking and toward data gathering” as the field became more science-based and less travel log.  Despite changes in research methodology, all seven of these women ensured that their work not be in vain, by publishing, speaking, or establishing schools and museums to further their studies.

I thank Adams for researching and writing this book, which also includes great photos.  I like to think that I share a bond with these ladies, since I also like to write, educate, and uncover forgotten history.  Maybe my treasure hunt (and yours, too) is still out there, waiting to be discovered.

P.S.  I recommend this book for readers of Elizabeth Peters’ fiction books based on Egyptian archeology, in which Amelia Peabody blazes a rightful trail alongside her archeologist husband, Emerson, in the early 19th century.  No doubt, Amelia’s character is based on the real-life examples from Ladies of the Field.     

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Filed under History, Resources for Writers

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