Book Review: Ladies of the Field by Amanda Adams

Amanda Adams’ book, Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure (which you can buy on Amazon/Amazon UK), delves into the extraordinary lives of seven female archaeologists who, like Lara, 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 archaeologist and 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 and archaeologist 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, where yours truly is from.
Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure by Amanda Adams
Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search for Adventure by Amanda Adams

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 will be disappointed as it’s obvious 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 enjoy the following:

  • Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists by Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky (eds.), University of Michigan Press (2007). [Buy this on Amazon/Amazon UK]
  • Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology by Magarita Díaz-Andreu and Marie Louise Stig Sorensen (eds.), Routledge (2012). [Buy this on Amazon/Amazon UK]
  • Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia byJanet Wallach, Phoenix (2005). [Buy this on Amazon/Amazon UK]
  • Daughter of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell, Pan (2007). [Buy this on Amazon/Amazon UK]
  • Amelia Edwards: Traveller, Novelist & Egyptologist by Joan Rees, Rubicon Press (1998). [Buy this on Amazon/Amazon UK]
  • Born to Rebel: The Life of Harriet Boyd Hawes by Mary Allsebrook, Oxbow Books (2003). [Buy this on Amazon/Amazon UK]

You should also check out this list of 10 biographies of early female archaeologists and explorers for further reading suggestions.

Alternatively, you can find plenty of information about these and other female pioneers over at Trowel Blazers, a site that celebrates the lives of female archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists, past and present.

You can also follow the Trowel Blazer crew on Twitter: @trowelblazers.

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About Kelly M

Kelly McGuire is a translator, editor, writer, and gamer with a passion for archaeology, foreign languages, cultural heritage, and wildlife conservation. She tweets under the username @TRHorizons and is the admin and chief content creator for Tomb Raider Horizons.

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15 Comments on “Book Review: Ladies of the Field by Amanda Adams”

  1. You might also enjoy reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. It’s historical fiction but about Mary Anning, who discovered a lot of dinosaur fossils in the UK and her struggle for recognition.

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