Book Review: Ladies of the Field by Amanda Adams
Amanda Adams’ book “Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure” delves into the extraordinary lives of seven female archaeologists who threw convention to the wind to travel to faraway lands in pursuit of knowledge and adventure. Some were mothers, some never married, some were devoted wives who worked alongside their husbands, but all were inspirational, courageous and determined women who made names for themselves in a male-dominated field and helped shape the world around them.
The seven women whose lives are explored in Adams’ book are, in order of appearance:
- Amelia Edwards – An English novelist who became one of the first female Egyptologists and co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund (now the Egypt Exploration Society) in order to promote the research and protection of Egypt’s ancient monuments.
- Jane Dieulafoy – A French explorer, archaeologist and women’s rights activist who disguised herself as a man in order to explore and excavate sites in the Middle East and North Africa with her husband.
- Zelia Nuttall – An American anthropologist who was a talented linguist, single mother and an expert on the Pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico.
- Gertrude Bell – The English “Queen of the Desert” who played a central role in the creation of the modern state of Iraq, travelled extensively across the Arabian Peninsula, and helped establish the Baghdad Archaeological Museum (now the Iraqi Museum).
- Harriet Boyd Hawes – An American Classicist who discovered and excavated a Minoan settlement on Crete and had the honour of being the first woman to direct a major field project in Greece.
- Agatha Christie – The renowned British crime writer who married an archaeologist, assisted in field expeditions in the Middle East and Egypt, and brought the past to life in her best-selling novels.
- Dorothy Garrod – A British archaeologist who went on to become the first female professor at Cambridge and discovered a Neanderthal skull in Gibraltar (my homeland).
The author devotes a mere 20-30 pages to each woman so we are only given a brief glimpse into their lives and careers. If you’re expecting in-depth, heavily referenced biographies, you may be disappointed as it’s clear that this book is intended for the general public. It is, however, an excellent introduction to some of archaeology’s most fascinating female scholars and proof that women were capable of being every bit as pioneering and ground-breaking as their male contemporaries at a time when women were largely confined to the home.
If you’re interested in learning more about these trailblazing women, you might also enjoy the following books:
- Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists by Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky (eds.), University of Michigan Press (2007).
- Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology by Magarita Díaz-Andreu and Marie Louise Stig Sorensen (eds.), Routledge (2012).
- Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Getrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach, Phoenix (2005).
- Daughter of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell, Pan (2007).
- Amelia Edwards: Traveller, Novelist & Egyptologist by Joan Rees, Rubicon Press (1998).
- Born to Rebel: The Life of Harriet Boyd Hawes by Mary Allsebrook, Oxbow Books (2003).