Women in Archaeology

I used to have a quotation from Ivor Noël-Hume on my office door, and I’ve just found the print-out, so it is going up on my current office door tomorrow. I thought I’d share it here too.  These days it seems that the vast majority of archaeologists are women.  Back in the 1960s, however, this was not the case. Noël-Hume, always forthright in his opinions, probably would not say today what he wrote 40 years ago, but it is a telling quotation about the perception that many people had about women’s roles and the ‘rights of their sex’, as Noël-Hume calls them. 

“I realized that we live in a time when discrimination can land you in jail, but I must risk it and say that you stand a better chance of taking on an inexperienced male volunteer than a female. Digging is, after all, a masculine occupation, and while more women than men are likely to do well in the pot-washing shed or in the laboratory, shovel-wielding females are not everyday sights in Western society. If they are to be useful on a site (and the right women can be splendid excavators), they must be prepared to be accepted as men, eschewing the traditional rights of their sex. It is vastly time-wasting for men in one area to be constantly hopping up and down to push barrows for women working in another. Besides, it is inorgdinately restricting after clouting one’s knee with a shovel to have to look around ot see if women are in earshot before commenting on it.

…Effective archaeology demands complete concentration on the work in hand, and the more feminine the woman the more lax the concentration. One lady volunteer improperly dressed for the occasion can cause havoc throughout the crew as well as damaging the ground on which she walks. High heels and low décolletage are a lethal combination.”

Ivor Noël-Hume, Historical Archaeology p 60, 1968 (emphasis mine)

Noël-Hume has just published a memoir; I will be interested to see if he discusses the changing demographic of archaeology in it. He’s a great writer, it should be a fun read regardless.

A Passion for the Past: The Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist, by Ivor Noël-Hume, 2010

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