an exceedingly brief introduction to women’s participation in Cypriot archaeology

Posted: 31/08/2013 in News & Analysis, Research
Tags: , , , ,

To follow up on the general post on the old boys’ club and other problems that affect women’s participation in academic work, I thought I would post a tiny bit of my thesis, which is an exceedingly brief introduction to women’s participation in Cypriot archaeology.

It was and is common for women to work on archaeological sites in Cyprus; but for a long time their presence was largely as workers.

Mirroring the patriarchal domestic division of labour, normally, men were archaeologists, technicians, supervisors, foremen and excavators, and women were spoil transporters, cooks, caretakers and cleaners (cf. Hogarth et al., 1888: 164; Karageorghis, 1999a: 49-51); men produced, and women disposed of their waste.

Historically low participation by women as archaeologists – ‘rather than… direct discrimination’ – led to consequently few publications by female archaeologists (Webb and Frankel, 1995: 96). But their low participation was caused by previous direct discrimination, and continued indirect discrimination.

Cypriot women were discouraged from becoming archaeologists, and female archaeologists were discouraged from working in Cyprus: while the first female dig director in Crete was Harriet Boyd Hawes in 1900 (Allsebrook, 2002: 94), the first female dig director in Cyprus was Joan du Plat Taylor in 1938 (Bolger, 2003: 201); du Plat Taylor had also been the first female government archaeologist – Cyprus Museum Assistant Curator – in Cyprus in 1932 (cf. Åström, 1971: 30).

Nevertheless, women have formed a numerical majority in the Department of Antiquities since 1995 (Alphas and Pilides, 2008: 30-31; by their ages, they have also made up the majority of the profession since about then).

In simple numbers, females appear to have finally achieved approximately equal participation (cf. Webb and Frankel, 1995: 95-97 – figs. 2-4; see also Bolger, 2003: 206 – table 8.1), but they are under-visible in co-authored and collaborative work (cf. Bolger, 2003: 209-211 – tables 8.4-8.6). In addition, women are still under-represented in the senior levels of the profession (cf. Webb and Frankel, 1995: 98; 100 – fig. 6).

Furthermore, proportionally, Cypriot women’s publication has actually declined (from about 1 in 3 between 1969 and 1979 to about 1 in 5 between 1981 and 1991; cf. Webb and Frankel, 1995: 97 – fig. 4).

Moreover, there are huge divisions within the discipline: crudely, women tend to do things, men tend to do theory; and within artefact studies, women tend to do pottery and archaeobotany, men tend to do metals and archaeozoology (cf. Bolger, 2003: 207 – tables 8.2-8.3; see also Webb and Frankel, 1995: 101).

Domestic burdens weigh more heavily on women than men, and they interfere with archaeological fieldwork even more than with other disciplines’ work (Webb and Frankel, 1995: 103), so they limit female archaeologists even more than they do anthropologists, let alone other academics, and push women into flexible – but insecure and unsupported – jobs within the industry, like artefact studies.

Nonetheless, women are most disadvantaged by “avoidable” inequities; their roles include the ‘dishwashing’ (Dommasnes, Kleppe, Mandt and Næss, 1998: 119), the essential but ‘invisible service[s]’ (Karouzou, 1984: 27, translated and cited by Nikolaidou and Kokkinidou, 1998: 248), which are either not published at all, or used unaccredited within others’ works, or written by the women then published by the institution (e.g. museum catalogues).

This phenomenon is most easily seen in the work of academic couples, where the men were the well-known dig directors, and the women were the ‘largely unacknowledged’ “dig wives”, who administered the excavations as well as their homes (Dever, 2004: 162).

Also, women’s cumulative disadvantage generates additional stress that further inhibits their work (Webb and Frankel, 1995: 104).

Perhaps most perversely, women’s under-recognised or completely unacknowledged excavation-digging and artefact analysis enables men’s career-advancing dig-directing and theoretical observation (ibid.: 104).

Nevertheless, women are relatively well-represented in Cypriot archaeology, compared with women in other countries’ archaeologies; and they are very well-represented within Cypriot archaeology, compared with Turkish Cypriots.


Allsebrook, M. 2002: Born to rebel: The life of Harriet Boyd Hawes. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Alphas, E and Pilides, D. 2008: Discovering the archaeologists of Europe, 2006-2008: The case of Cyprus. Lefkosia: Republic of Cyprus Department of Antiquities. Available at:

Åström, P, (Ed.). 1971: Who’s who in Cypriote archaeology: Biographical and bibliographical notes. Göteborg: Paul Åströms Förlag.

Bolger, D. 2003: Gender in ancient Cyprus: Narratives of social change on a Mediterranean island. Walnut Creek: Altamira Press.

Dever, N. 2004: “They also dug! Archaeologists’ wives and their stories”. Near Eastern Archaeology, Volume 67, Number 3, 162-173.

Dommasnes, L H, Kleppe, E J, Mandt, G and Næss, J-R. 1998: “Women archaeologists in retrospect: The Norwegian case”. In Díaz-Andreu, M and Sørensen, M L S, (Eds.). Excavating women: A history of women in European archaeology, 105-124. London: Routledge.

Hogarth, D G, James, M R, Smith, R E and Gardner, E A. 1888: “Excavations in Cyprus, 1887-88”. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Volume 9, 147-271.

Karageorghis, V. 1999a: Excavating at Salamis in Cyprus, 1952-1974. Athens: the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

Karouzou, S P. 1984: “Viomata kai mnemosyna [Βιώματα και μνημόσυνα (Experiences and memorials)]”. HOROS, Volume 2, Number 2, 1-61.

Nikolaidou, M and Kokkinidou, D. 1998: “Greek women in archaeology: An untold story”. In Díaz-Andreu, M and Sørensen, M L S, (Eds.). Excavating women: A history of women in European archaeology, 235-265. London: Routledge.

Webb, J M and Frankel, D. 1995: “Gender inequity and archaeological practice: A Cypriot case study”. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, Volume 8, Number 2, 93-112.

  1. […] an exceedingly brief introduction to women’s participation in Cypriot archaeology […]

  2. […] (and some of their adventures would’ve been best-sellers). For a long time, even though it disproportionately exploited and disadvantaged women, at least even unrecognised authors of museum catalogues, etc. could afford to write “for […]

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