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Women Pioneers of Archaeology

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, archaeology was digging its roots as a scientific, methodological discipline. Historically, archaeology was mainly a male dominated career and women often did not stand at the forefront of archaeological discoveries. Often women who supported the work received little public recognition making the achievements of the following women stand out all the more.

Harriet Boyd Hawes

Harriet Boyd Hawes (1871-1945)

This well-educated American majored in Classical Studies and was fluent in Greek. After earning her degree, she rode around the island of Crete on the back of a mule (often alone) while looking for ancient sites. In 1901, she discovered Gournia, the first Minoan town site ever unearthed and she supervised excavations for three years. She was able to publish her findings in a highly illustrated report which is still consulted this day. She is noteworthy for her classification of artifacts and using ethnographic parallels of Cretan rural life during her time.

Image of Gertrude Canton Thompson
Image; Wikipedia CC

Gertrude Caton-Thompson (1888-1985)

Canton, a wealthy British researcher, became known for her interdisciplinary project surveying and excavation in the Fayum of Egypt, and her 1929 excavations at Great Zimbabwe where she unearthed datable artifacts from a stratified context. These were both notable and a source of great controversy since it was widely believed that the beautiful stone structures were European in origin while she proved otherwise.





 Anna O. Shepard (1903-1973)

An American who studied archaeology, she became a specialist in ceramics and Mesoamerican archaeology. She was one of the pioneers of petrographic analysis of archaeological pottery. This means cutting a layer of rock so thin that light can transmit through it in order to study the structural and chemical makeup of the rock. She also published extensively on the technology of New World pottery and wrote a standard work Ceramics for the Archaeologist.



Kathleen Kenyon (1906-1978)

Daughter of the Director of the British Museum, she was a British archaeologist who trained on Roman sites in Britain under the famed Mortimer Wheeler. She had close control over stratigraphy and applied this to the Near East sites of Jerusalem and Jericho. Most notably, while excavating Jericho from 1952-1958 she found evidence that pushed back the date of occupation to the end of the last Ice Age, and uncovered a walled village from a Neolithic farming community commonly referred to as the earliest town in the world.

Ruth Marshall Tovell (-1992)

From 1948-1949 Ruth Marshall trained under archaeologist Norman J. Emerson and participated in his class making her one of the founders of the Ontario Archaeology Society (OAS). In 1956 she was elected the first female president of the OAS. She evolved the orientation of the OAS from primarily membership meetings based to an active archaeological organization participating in field activities and initiating the creation/ becoming the first editor of Arch Notes.

Elsie Jury Typing Notes in the Field
Elsie Jury Typing Notes in the Field

Elsie McLeod Jury (1910-1993)

Elsie, a historian, author, and archivist by nature married archaeologist Wilfrid Jury in 1948. She worked with Wilf on most of his archaeological excavations while keeping detailed notes and artifacts catalogue records of each site. She was instrumental in Wilfrid’s work by editing and researching his publications while also authoring many of her own publications including The Establishment of Penetanguishine: Bastion of the North 1814-1856. Later in life she received an honorary doctorate and became co-curator with Wilf at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.





Mary Leakey (1913-1996)

No list can be complete without mention of Mary Leakey. She was a cigar smoking, whisky drinking British Archaeologist who together with her husband Louis, worked together for over 40 years on many sites in East Africa, most notably Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. In 1959 Mary unearthed the skull of an adult australopithecine, dating 1.79 million years ago and the famous fossilized human footprints dating 3.7 million years ago. With ‘Lucy’ among many other finds at the Gorge, she pioneered evolutionary thoughts and encouraged conversation in physical anthropology.

The women mentioned above are not the only women pioneers of Archaeology.
Women such as Vivian Wade- Gery (1897-1988), Josephine Shear (1901-1967, and Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985)
among others challenged and dominated the archaeological field during their time
and numerous women are continuing to pave the way.


Susan Hill

Hi there,
I would like to be notified of the next moccasin making workshop. My daughter and I would both like to attend.
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Jennifer Stead

Hello, your contact information has been added for our next moccasin making workshop. Thank you!

Kelly Loud

Heads up, I think the photo you have for Anna O. Shepard is actually a photo of Lillian Moller Gilbreth.

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