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Kathleen Kenyon Archaeologist

As part of our programs, we encouraged University students to contribute to our blog, based on what they were learning.  In this week’s guest blog, Elizabeth McConkey. then a student in Western’s ANTHRO 2261 – Adventures in Pop Culture Archaeology, covered Kathleen Kenyon, an Archaeologist we would all benefit from knowing better.

Kathleen Kenyon, Archaeologist

Image of Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon

Indiana Jones is one of the most well known movie franchises of all time. In the first installment of the series, with the Nazis hot on his trail, Indiana Jones equipped with his whip, shotgun, satchel and fedora sets out to uncover arguably the most significant archaeological find in all of history, the Ark of the Covenant. Despite having an affiliation with a museum and university, Indiana adds some unconventional aspects to the archaeologist’s job description. Such criteria include gun fighting and hand to hand combat. Despite the image that popular culture provides, the truth is that real archaeologists are quite different from Harrison Ford’s character. For example, British archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon could not seem further from this portrayal of an archaeologist. Kenyon was a significant British archaeologist in the 20th century, taking part in excavations all over the world. She might not have been involved in gun fighting and car chases, but her career was nothing short of extraordinary.

As a significant female archaeologist, Kenyon defies the masculine image and stereotype that the Indiana Jones franchise reflects. A graduate of Oxford University in London England, Kenyon pursued a career in archaeology with a special interest in stratigraphy (the distribution of different soil types in the ground) (3). She created the concept of the baulk, which is now a very significant part of stratigraphic analyses in modern archaeology (3). A baulk is the wall or edge of an excavated area, which reveals the different layers of soil in the ground (4). Baulks are significant because they allow archaeologists to identify the different layers of the soil and thereby to determine the age of a site and categorize the artifacts into time periods.

Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho

Kenyon in the field at Jericho
At Jericho

Though Kenyon never set out to find the Ark of the Covenant, she did take part in significant excavations with a biblical theme. For example, she was greatly involved with the excavations at Jericho, a site located in Palestine and associated with the ancient Israelite’s (1). This site is not only significant because it is thousands of years old, but evidence collected by Kenyon suggests that it is the only site that has been inhabited continuously from the beginnings of the first human agricultural settlements until the present (2). The evidence that she collected shed light on the lives of those who inhabited the site in more ancient times. Her research records the development of the people of Jericho from their nomadic beginnings to their use more sophisticated year round settlements (2.Pg 269). Though nothing supernatural came with her finds, she certainly contributed a great deal to knowledge about the site.

Kenyon’s career was not lacking in excitement. Through the development of new archaeological techniques like the use of the baulk and her excavation of sites at Jericho, Kathleen Kenyon clearly made a large mark on the field of archaeology. Despite their differences, Kenyon was more like Indiana Jones than we might have expected at first glance.

Kathleen Kenyon Archaeologist

References and Additional Resources:

  1. Kenyon, Kathleen. 1955 “Some Archaeological Sites and the Old Testament: Jericho,” The Expository Times 66(12). 355-358.
  2. Kenyon, Kathleen. 1967 “Jericho,” Archaeology 20(4). 268-275.
  3. Dever, William G. 1978 “Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978): A Tribute,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 232. 3-4.
  4. Archaeological Institute of America “Introduction to Archaeology: Glossary,” Accessed on Feb 8th 2016.
  5. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kathleen-Kenyon

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