Can We Tell the History of Archaeology Through the Voices of Women?

The Hisotry of Archaeology

It’s an interesting proposition for my mind to see if there’s some way to tell the story of archaeology nearly exclusively using female agents. It’s a thought I’ve been rolling around with for a while. What would it look like? Would it be complete? Could I link things back to women in the past? Possibly discovering things that their male counterparts were given credit for when it was women’s work that produced it?

It’s not a simple task; I’m effectively proposing that we rewrite the history of archaeology almost purely using women’s voices. Is that even possible? I’m willing to try. I’m willing to attempt this at least. The history of archaeology has been male-centric since its inception, but women have always been present in the field. Many of them doing dangerous tasks or laboring long hours to produce the work their husbands, brothers, or fathers took credit for. Some were even directly robbed of their work and discoveries so male colleagues could shine in their place.

The male voice dominates the history of archaeology. Even when the story can be told through a woman’s own words, often male voices are brought in as if that somehow gives more validity to her voice. It can be something as simple as using a male’s account of something when a woman’s account would be the first person viewpoint. It can also be with the very words we use when we tell the story.

Archaeology is all about telling stories. As a writer and an archaeologist, I am aware of the power of viewpoint and word choice. That doesn’t mean I always pick the right ones, but it does mean that I try to use the most impactful ones.

So what am I going to do here, you’re asking?

I’m going to try to retell history. I’m going to try and use the voices and viewpoints of women, crafting my language around them. Yes I’m going to be telling a story, and yes that gives me some artistic freedom, but I’m still an archaeologist. The story will always have facts, will still be based on reality. There will be points that I’m quite aware I will not be able to find a woman’s viewpoint. When it does, I will be honest and use the perspective that I have. But if there is the ability to explain something via the actions and words of women in the past, I most certainly will take that route first.

Does that then make me biased?

It is crucial to discuss bias and to reflect upon the question above. If I am simply telling the history of archaeology with no ulterior motives or gender biases involved, what does that history then look like? Is it an even, equal spread across all genders recognized and otherwise? Is it possible to explain the history of archaeology without using gender at all? Or is it assumed that the default history of archaeology is male? And therefore to tell the story the “unbiased way” requires a bias towards men?

Is that truly unbiased?

As much as anyone can argue that my feminist critique of the history of archaeology will be biased because I am telling female stories and linking women to the history of my field, I can equally say that the “traditional” history of archaeology is most definitely biased because it doesn’t look for the stories of women, or their viewpoints, or their voices. Simply put, my bias is no greater than the current bias that exists.

Still, that does leave the larger question of what would a genuinely unbiased history and archaeology look like? Who would be included? How would their stories be told? Is that even possible?

My answer to that question would be, it’s impossible for me to know, or even to begin answering because the experiences, viewpoints, and voices of anyone other than men, and mostly white European men at that, are the only truly retold stories in archaeology. The male perspective in archaeology has been established and preserved since before the field professionalized. Good or bad, helpful or harmful, the male perspective is the only one we truly have when looking at the history of archaeology. In my opinion, the only way I, myself, can counter this is to create a perspective that is the exact opposite.

Are there flaws in my methods? Of course, there are. Are they intentional? Not at all. Just as there are few female voices in the history of archaeology, there are even fewer of those voices outside of the category of non-white, non-disabled, male archaeologists.
There are holes in my knowledge and understanding when it comes to groups outside my personal experience. Hence, why I have chosen to focus on women as much as possible, that is not to say if I come across an individual who fits somewhere outside the male-female binary that I won’t use their story. I think it would be immensely exciting to find such individuals in the history of archaeology. I am always open to suggestions from readers and commentators on individuals to look into who fall outside of my current groupings.

All of this now said I hope my intentions are clear with a small project that I’m taking up. I hope you all look kindly upon my efforts and gently correct me where it’s needed. I will not be responding to hateful comments or any “trolling” on this project. This is important to me as a personal project; I’m hoping I can share with others, and perhaps inspire similar projects from other viewpoints.

I encourage comments and suggestions as I move forward on this project. I promise to look at all of them with a critical eye and include them if they fit the project parameters. As always feel free to comment and critique again, I simply ask that you be nice.
And now, let us begin.

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