Happy Birthday Mary Anning! Born on the 21st of May in 1799, your spirit is still strong amongst trowelblazers the world over.

This year we are channeling the Anning spirit, and are celebrating by opening a shop. But rather than selling fossils (or indeed shells by the seashore), we are selling TrowelBlazers SWAG! All proceeds will go to keeping trowelblazers.com going, and if we really start raking it in then we will put our squillions towards other good works, like our long-held dream of running a fieldwork scholarship.

Take your pick from a selection of TrowelBlazing quotes to inspire you, like this no nonsense one from Anning herself (describing a plesiosaur fossil she collected and prepared):

“It is large, and it is heavy… but it is the first, and only one discovered in Europe” — Mary Anning, 1823

Or how about channeling the power of our community directly, with this by Alison Atkin (buy it here):

#TrowelT design by Alison Atkin

We were left speechless when she submitted it to our #TrowelT call for designs. And then there is this beauty of a portrait of Gertrude Bell by Angela Hennessy. And remember, if you want to submit your own, you still can–we have a special #TrowelT collection dedicated to designs by our community, for our community).

We are pretty excited. More quotes and designs coming soon. And if you have any ideas get in touch!


This guest post by students Monika Dimitrova and Uli Botzojorns at the University of Leiden (Netherlands) features a collaborative team of three women, each deserving of their own posts-linked below as we post a new article each day this week.

“Duuh Duuh da da da Duuh”

The opening notes of the Star Wars theme song ring out over the trench, and trowelling stops for a moment as we look around for the source.  Madgolna Vicze stops mid-stride around the edge of the pit and whips her cellphone out of her pocket.  Flipping it open, the music stops and she starts emphatically speaking.  From the far corner of the trench, a bachelor student from the University of Southampton begins to hum the rest of the song, to the chagrin of her fellow trowellers.

We are working around 30 kilometres south of the Hungarian capital, Budapest, at one of the most well researched Bronze Age sites. The site of Százhalombatta-Foldvar, the largest-scale prehistoric excavation in Hungary, has been revealing its secrets to the archaeological team exploring it over eighteen years of detailed excavation. It has substantially enriched our perspective of the European Bronze Age and has gained an international significance. The current project owes its success to the co-direction and cooperation between three women archaeologists who have excelled in their respective fields – Magdolna Vicze, Marie Louise Stig Sørensen, and Joanna Sofaer.

The development of the archaeological excavations at Százhalombatta has been heterogeneous, and the project changed directors a number of times before settling with the current co-directorship. Begun in 1998, the original team leaders changed a few times over the years. Dr. Sørensen and Dr. Sofaer joined in 2000 as supporters of the project and in 2005, after the unfortunate passing of Dr. Proszlai, agreed to co-direct with Vicze.

More than 10 years later, the Százhalombatta project has turned into an internationally renowned excavation project, with a diverse archaeological team that changes from season to season. Given the impressive scholarly and personal background of the three directors, it is safe to assume that the international success of the Százhalombatta project is owed to its driving forces, each who deserve their own post:

Dr. Magdolna Vicze

Professor Marie-Louise Stig Sørensen

Professor Joanna Sofaer

During our participation in the 2016 season of the Százhalombatta excavation we were particularly interested in how these diversely accomplished individuals experienced working in close collaboration. The two authors of this article participated in the excavation and interviewed the three directors about their work on the project.

The continuity of the Százhalombatta project throughout transitions in directorship is successful and of international significance for prehistoric archaeology. The directors owe their success first and foremost to their professionalism and ability to form a well-functioning team. It is their compatibility (both with and without effort) as researchers and people that makes them so successful. Nevertheless, their womanhood facilitates their personal and professional relationships, and their shared gender helps them create a better team management. Together these women have maintained a project that will likely change our understanding of Bronze Age Tell settlement patterns and possibly even the European Bronze Age as a whole. Both authors felt motivated and inspired by working with Dr’s Vicze, Sørensen, and Sofaer and we are excited to watch the excavation proceed to its completion.

Image provided by Matrica Museum and used with permission. Pictures are (L to R) Vicze, Sørensen, and Sofaer on-site.



RH e-invite


After an absolutely awe-inspiring amount of work, our Raising Horizons collaboration has finally seen the light of day! On the 9th of
February we had a little party to celebrate the artistic vision of Leonora Saunders and the rather epic TrowelBlazing of Becky Wragg Sykes. The portraits were hung by the railings with care, half the professors and all of the TrowelBlazers were there…!

We’ve compiled a few pictures of the evening for those who came out to support us, and we will soon be posting the perks and treats for our Raising Horizons backers! In the meantime, check out the #RaisingHorizons tag, enjoy seeing what ‘the most women ever seen in the Geological Society’ looks like, and a massive THANK YOU from all of us at Team TrowelBlazers for everything that makes us work.*


Tori takes over the most important job – sorting the bubbles


Suzie finds a new role as Queen of Merch


We even met some celebrities… (Shahina, Jess, Rachel, Ella, and Peggy!)

image12 image8 image6ellaFullSizeRender

And the amazing Emma O’ Riordan brought together THREE amazing women in this photo — TrowelBlazer Margaret Murray, her modern Raising Horizons counterpart Amara Thornton, and the custom TrowelBlazer Lottie!


There were beautiful words from Leonora, from Becky, from Raising Horizons star Peggy Brunache and from Dorothea Bate biographer Karolyn Shindler. And MOST EXCITING THING OF ALL — all four of your Team TrowelBlazers managed to co-exist in the same physical space without the sheer awesomeness collapsing the space-time continuum.†



*That would be you, our amazing community  😉

†We’re better at digging than physics. Oh well.


About two years ago, we were contacted by Caroline VanSickle (@cvans), the author of this special guest post, who had an idea. A great idea. She wanted to incorporate TrowelBlazers in the undergraduate classroom, and has now done so, twice. Below, she explains her educational goals, methods, and outcomes – one of which includes the creation of a number of group-authored posts for our website. Over the next two weeks, we will post a new trowelblazer each day, each carefully researched and authored by her students, some more famous than others, but all new additions to our site. We are glad to see TrowelBlazers having an impact in the classroom this way, and hope that others might use or adapt Caroline’s pedagogy – and let us know about it. Many thanks to the students who contributed these pieces, and thank you Caroline!

The standard story of hominin fossil discoveries, present in nearly every introductory textbook, has its customary cast of characters, including Eugene Dubois, Raymond Dart, Davidson Black, Robert Broom, Louis Leakey, and Donald Johanson. Absent from this list are any of the women who have been instrumental in discovering evidence of human evolution. Indeed, one might get the impression that only men work in paleoanthropology, only men organize the sorts of archaeological digs that yield hominin fossils, and only men write peer-reviewed articles about human evolution. Those of us who study the subject know that this isn’t the case, yet this is the version of our field’s history that we often find ourselves teaching in class.

I’ve been an avid reader of the TrowelBlazers website since it got its start, a start that I watched happen on Twitter and have been excited about ever since. TrowelBlazers tells the other side of the story, the one where women have been an important part of paleoanthropology (and related fields) since people first started digging up fossils.

When I had the opportunity to teach a class on human evolution, particularly one that focused on gender and sex in human evolution, I knew I wanted to incorporate a more gender-balanced and accurate history of the discipline, because representation in science matters. TrowelBlazers became my go-to resource for adding stories about how important fossil were discovered by people who were regularly missing from my students’ textbook. My favorite TrowelBlazer story is how some of my favorite Neandertals (I’m looking at you, Tabun) were discovered by a team of women led by Cambridge’s first woman professor Dorothy Garrod. The Tabun skeleton was discovered by a woman whose surname remains a mystery, but I am thankful for Yusra’s expertise.

I decided that in addition to sharing trowelblazers’ stories with my students, I wanted to give them an opportunity to really engage with a woman researcher or excavator from the past. I developed a class project that assigned groups of students to research potential trowelblazers and then write an article appropriate to submit to the TrowelBlazers website. I taught this same class twice, and while I tweaked a few of the assignment specifics, I had both classes write articles with great success.

Each semester I started by introducing the website. Students were required to explore the website and read multiple articles to prepare them to share their favorites with their classmates. After this exploration phase, we discussed in class what made a “good” TrowelBlazers article; generally, the students preferred posts that were shorter and focused on one aspect of the woman’s research. With this agreed-upon criteria in mind, students working in groups of 3-4 started researching a woman paleoanthropologist I assigned them. After a few weeks, groups submitted an annotated bibliography showing that their research had been successful (something I’ll admit I was initially concerned about since the whole point is that these women are difficult to research). Yet my students always seemed to find a way to locate the information they needed – their bibliographies included articles authored by the subjects themselves, biographies, C.V.s or personal websites, and in some cases obituaries. At the end of the semester, students gave an in-class presentation on their subject and turned in a written Trowel Blazer-style article on their subject, along with an annotated bibliography to demonstrate the research they did.

Students received extra credit for including a photograph (complete with contact information so that the TrowelBlazers team could gain permission to use the photograph on their website). I also gave extra credit for suggesting future research subjects. Both semesters I received between 15-25 names of potential trowelblazers that could be researched in the future. My students learned some of these names from other courses they’d taken and learned about others while researching their subject. Many were names that even I was unfamiliar with. To me, this indicates that this is a viable project to continue including in the future, as there appear to be plenty of people that still need to be researched.

Student commented that they enjoyed the project and learned a lot about women in paleoanthropology, even beyond their group’s subject. One of the most valuable aspects was that my students had the option to submit their writing to an actual webpage for publication; not only did they learn about the history of paleoanthropology, they contributed to a public understanding of that history as well. This kind of assignment is important in paleoanthropology because women become more interested in science fields when they learn about women role models in those fields. Men are more willing to recognize women as scientists when they are exposed to women in science. This project does both while also uncovering the history of hominin fossil finds that may have been obscured due to past sexism in the academy.

Posts in the series include:

Leslie Aiello
Carol Ward
Adrienne Zilhman
Katerina Harvati
Mary Leakey
Kay Behrensmeyer
Frida Avern Leakey
Elaine Morgan
Elizabeth Wayland Barber
Dorothy Liddell


Here for the final week of our crowdfund we have our last two women of #RaisingHorizons, joined by their fascination with the long-gone plant life of our planet.

Dr Marie Carmichael Stopes and Professor Jane Francis

Marie Carmichael Stopes in the laboratory, around 1904. Image from Wikipedia; source Marie Stopes International; used in accordance with upload to further knowledge of Dr Stopes.

Marie Carmichael Stopes in the laboratory, around 1904. Image from Wikipedia; source Marie Stopes International; used in accordance with upload to further knowledge of Dr Stopes.

Marie Carmichael Stopes was a pioneer of many things: education, palaeobotany, science communication, fieldwork and later in life, women’s health and reproductive rights. We’ve written about her before, but her story is no less impressive second time round, and frankly the more you investigate, the more amazing it is.

Born in Scotland to intellectual parents, Marie’s studies began at University College, London where she did a joint degree in geology and botany with a scholarship, in only two years and still got a first. She went on to become the youngest person in Britain to gain a DSc from the same institution in 1903, then completed a PhD in palaeobotany in one year at the University of Munich and following this became the first female academic at Manchester University as a lecturer between 1904-10. Phew, that’s a lot of firsts…

By this time she had specialized in researching Carboniferous plants, and in particular the nature and formation of coal. It is not surprising at all that this woman who was used to smashing glass ceilings requested to join Robert Scott’s last expedition to the Antarctic so she might pursue geological work. She was refused, but Scott’s team did collect specimens (he visited her at Manchester for a tutorial in fossil plants), and the material was recovered from his ill-fated expedition.

During her time at Manchester, Marie went on an 18 month long field trip to Japan, financed by the Royal Society, in pursuit of evidence for the earliest origin of flowers. Her remarkable experience can be read in her account of the trip “A Journal From Japan”, published in 1910. In the same year she also published “Ancient Plants“, often referred to as a textbook, but in fact very clearly aimed at general readers too; in the introduction she dedicates it “especially to all those who take an interest in plant evolution because it forms a thread in the web of life whose design they wish to trace.” Marie had already in 1906 published a book about studying plants for young people, and this belief in bringing information to those who might not otherwise be able to access it would continue later in her life.

1910 was also a pivotal year for Marie because while she was in Canada, having been brought in specifically by the Geological Society there to sort out disputes about the ages of important deposits, she met and got engaged to her first husband. While her scientific career continued to gain strength over the next few years (and she kept her name), her increasingly unhappy personal life began to edge forwards as a driving force for action too. In 1913, as she was starting divorce proceedings, she wrote what was to become the book which would kick start her life’s work in relationships and women’s sexual health. She continued her scientific work during the first world war (producing landmark research on coal, still used today to optimize power stations), and it was only in 1920 that she resigned her position as a lecturer at University College London, to pursue the establishment of Britain’s first birth control clinics, with her second husband. Her palaeontological publications continued however until 1935.

The rest of Marie Stopes’ life is just as remarkable as her early years as a palaeobiologist. There’s not the space here to go into the enormous impact she had on society through her work in promoting women’s health and sexual reproductive autonomy, but her forthrightness and commitment is a reflection of how she pursued her earlier trowelblazing career, which she still deserves to be better known for.

Professor Jane Francis.

Professor Jane Francis.

In probably one of our closest links between the Raising Horizons women, our contemporary trowelblazer Professor Jane Francis has actually worked on the same deposits as Marie Stopes. Her career perhaps offers an idea of the success Marie might have found if she had remained in palaeontology; we know she would certainly have gone to Antarctica had she been able to.

Jane’s degrees in geology were at the University of Southampton, and she later moved as a postdoctoral researcher, to Bedford College, the first higher education institution for women in Britain, with links to many trowelblazers and other Raising Horizons women.  She then had a position at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), and at the University of Adelaide, before working at University of Leeds for over twenty years where she became Professor of Palaeoclimatology and Dean of the Faculty of Environment. In 2013 she was appointed Director at the BAS, the first woman to hold this position, and has also been the first woman to chair the Operations Working Group of Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings, which is an international forum focusing on the legal and logistical practicalities of working in Antarctica.

Jane’s research focuses on examining the environment and climate of the past through studying plant fossils. Her work in particular looks at how the the polar regions of the Earth have had hugely different conditions in ancient times when carbon dioxide levels were higher. Some of her fascinating projects include examining the traces of insect damage on plant fossils as a way to examine the evolution of ancient polar forests. In total, combining both hemispheres, she has been to these northern and southern extremes of the globe more than 15 times (Ellesmere Island, Axel Heiberg Island and Svalbard in the Arctic and the Transantarctic Mountains and the Antarctic Peninsula). Jane’s research is important not only for understanding the past condition of the Earth, but also significant as it points to how climate change may affect us in the next centuries.

Jane has received many awards, including early in her career the Palaeontological Association’s President’s Award. Since then she has won the US Navy Antarctic Medal, the Antarctic Service Medal from the NSF, the Coke Medal from the Geological Society of London, been named “Explorer Scientist” by The Science Council and awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University Of Plymouth. In 2002 Jane was awarded The Polar Medal, only the fourth woman our of over 4000 recipients, recognising her contribution to British polar science.


Written by Becky.


These Raising Horizons trowelblazers are connected through their explorations of archaeology, its practice and meanings across many different channels, from academic articles to artistic endeavours.

Jacquetta Hawkes and Dr Colleen Morgan

Jacquetta Hawkes, likely shown here at the excavation of Harristown Passage Tomb, County Waterford, Ireland, which she directed in 1939. Photographer unknown. Many thanks to Alison Cullingford, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Bradford, home to the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive, for supplying this photo. She also runs the blog Celebrating Jacquetta Hawkes.

Jacquetta Hawkes, likely shown here at the excavation of Harristown Passage Tomb, County Waterford, Ireland, which she directed in 1939. Photographer unknown. Many thanks to Alison Cullingford, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Bradford, home to the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive, for supplying this photo. She also runs the blog Celebrating Jacquetta Hawkes.

Jacquetta Hawkes is not truly an unknown trowelblazer, having had obituaries in the broadsheets when she died in 1996, and contemporary ‘re-discoveries’ of her work. Yet given the breadth and vision of her oeuvre– a true antiquarian, according to one commenter–, it is surprising that she is not a more widely celebrated cultural figure today, as she was decades ago (listen to this radio programme on Jacquetta by her biographer Christine Finn).

Fittingly given her interdisciplinarity, Jacquetta’s background included an eminent scientist (her father, a Nobel prize winner) and poet (her cousin Gerard Manly Hopkins). She recalls a fascination with archaeology even as a child, digging in the garden under cover of darkness (and blistering her hand, something familiar to all novice trowelers). She was the first woman to enroll on Dorothy Garrod‘s new archaeology and anthropology course at Cambridge, and following her degree (first class), she was awarded a travelling scholarship and joined Garrod’s excavations at Mount Carmel, Palestine in 1932. This experience had a profound effect on her contemplative psyche, in particular her involvement in the excavation of a female Neanderthal skeleton, the first found outside Europe (working alongside Yusra who found the first tooth), and she wrote about how she felt deeply connected to this ancient woman.

Jacquetta’s primary archaeological career in terms of fieldwork and scholarly writing was before the 1950s. In 1939 she was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (supported by Garrod), the same year she was directing a Neolithic excavation in Ireland, and published a book on the archaeology of Jersey. She had already worked on many different sites, including in collaboration with her first husband, Christopher.
Following WWII, she was recruited by the British government to turn her talents to yet another medium– television–  in charge of the post-war reconstruction effort in “Visual Education”. She wanted to bring an aesthetic element, which included making a ground-breaking film on prehistory called The Beginning of History. In 1947 her importance to British culture was apparent, being on the UK Committee co-organising the first ever UNESCO conference in Mexico, 1947.

In 1949 she began to focus more fully on writing, having just published her only book of poetry, and went on to establish a role as a key national cultural figure. In particular she was archaeological advisor to the 1951 Festival of Britain, archaeology correspondent for the Sunday Times, and was involved in many other pursuits including scriptwriting and co-authoring plays with her second husband. She never lost touch with archaeology, even if she was never really part of academia, and became involved in the great debates of the 1960s with an article about the tensions between new scientific techniques and the intuitive, interpretive nature of archaeology. In 1971 she became Vice President of the Council for British Archaeology, and was still writing popular archaeological books into the 1980s.

Jacquetta’s most enduring creation was probably her first book, A Land, published in 1951 (republished in 2012).  A bestseller, it merged Jacquetta’s passions- time, geology, history, archaeology, literature and a bodily-embedded consciousness, to explore the foundational interconnections between humans, other life and the physical world. It’s origins can be seen even in her journals as a 16 year old, recording a visit to watch a total eclipse in 1927, where she wanders the landscape, picking up and photographing baby birds in the grass, and noting a fossil-filled limestone wall.

Dr Colleen Morgan; image used with permission.

Dr Colleen Morgan; image used with permission.

If Jacquetta Hawkes had been around for the explosion of new technology in the digital age, and the debates about its applications to archaeology, you can be sure she would have extended her talents to exploring it- probably in the online world of blogging and social media.

Digital archaeology is where our 21st century counterpart, Dr Colleen Morgan, has followed her own creative path through archaeology and the many forms of the arts. Now a postdoctoral researcher  at the Centre for Digital Heritage, University of York, she has crammed an astonishing amount of left-field thinking into her career already. Colleen’s undergraduate dissertation on Iron Age Japanese popular culture, feminism, and materiality points to her already diverse interests, and after working in the commercial/heritage sector, she undertook her PhD at Berkeley, University of California. Here Colleen’s exploratory work flourished under two trowelblazing supervisors (Meg Conkey and Ruth Tringham, whom she has written about for TrowelBlazers), and she focused on exploring digital media and archaeology via object biographies.

Before her current position, she joined York under the EC’s Marie Curie funded EUROTAST project, which used multi-disciplinary approaches to explore the Transatlantic slave trade. Colleen’s role was in project dissemination, connecting back to her principles of research which she shared during her speech at the UC Berkeley 2013 commencement ceremony: “Participate. Make. Share.”. True to this, as well as her work on the use of digital media for heritage in Qatar, she coordinates outreach and digital documentation as part of the Origins of Doha Project. She is also passionate about knowledge transfer in teaching settings, revelling in the moments where she too learns something new from this reflexive process.
Colleen’s focus on digital aspects of archaeology has led her to consider diverse facets of archaeological practice, and in particular how new methods and technology impact this. She has published on a huge range of topics including photography and film, locational technologies, methodologies for ‘excavating’ media objects, the lived environments of archaeology (dig houses), best practice in online archaeology, and ‘DIY’, punk and anarchist approaches. In an echo of Raising Horizons, Colleen also worked on Faces of Archaeology, a photographic project documenting the diversity of those attending the 2013 World Archaeological Congress.
Colleen’s way of thinking is showcased in her award-winning blog, Middle Savagery, which contains an archive covering more than 13 years of her writing on a diverse and fascinating range of topics. Maintained since her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas, she has written posts about archaeology, as well as the practising and experiencing of living and making archaeology, including from feminist perspectives. Just as striking as the topics, the creativity of her language shines through: in one very Hawkes-like post, she recalls her PhD thesis acknowledgements, considering the material surroundings of the Berkeley department and the community living within.
Perhaps her most experimental research has been part of the ground-breaking Çatalhöyük project (the excavation of which  Raising Horizons participant Shahina Farid directed), including working while at Berkeley on the digital re-creation of the Neolithic settlement inside the online world of Second Life. This included exploring how a virtual world could be used to think about fact and fiction in archaeology via hosting lectures, a museum, and tours, well as creating “machinima” (films created within Second Life itself): people interacting with the world in an embodied way, via the avatars of the Neolithic residents, blurring boundaries between identity, reconstruction, heritage and experience. Jacquetta would surely have approved.
Written by Becky.

These two women are connected not only through their professional vocation, but also directly through the institution of the Museum of London, sponsors of Raising Horizons.

Tessa Verney Wheeler and Jessica Bryan

Tessa Verney Wheeler, at Verulamium during the 1930s excavation, pointing at a burial. Image: UCL open access.

Tessa Verney Wheeler, at Verulamium during the 1930s excavation, pointing at a burial. Image: UCL open access.

Anyone wanting the full picture of Tessa Verney Wheeler‘s contribution to archaeology should check out the wonderful biography of her by L. C. Carr (thanks to Kate Sheppard for the loan!). As we don’t have a proper TrowelBlazers post on her yet, this piece will have to remain a sketch.

Tessa Verney Wheeler was another of the Raising Horizons trowelblazers who benefitted from the openness of the University of London in accepting women students, trained there between 1911-14, where she also met R. Mortimer Wheeler and got married. Following the First World War and after his appointment to the National Museum of Wales, together they excavated at several Welsh sites. From the beginning it was a partnership where in modern terms, she was the Excavation Director, to his Principle Investigator. After her husband’s promotion to the London Museum, she stayed in Wales over the winter of 1926 to undertake the excavation of Roman site Caerleon, which they had planned together.

Tessa started lecturing at the Museum in 1928, and together they established the new Institute of Archaeology (now part of UCL) in 1934. Until her death in 1936, her role in developing fieldwork techniques at the same time as a teaching, both in lecturing but much more significantly training students on excavations, in particular Verulamium and Maiden Castle, is Tessa’s greatest legacy. She instilled in a generation of future archaeologists the careful, controlled approach to excavation that she developed along with her husband (what would later be known as the Wheeler-Kenyon method, after it was refined by one of those students). But more than this, Tessa is remembered by those who experienced working under her as supportive and encouraging, offering a strong example of the correct way to do things on site.

In particular, for the young women whose first experience of archaeological excavation – that strange blend of physical exertion, boredom and intense excitement – was under Tessa’s guidance, it may be no co-incidence that a large number went on to significant careers of their own (among them Kathleen Kenyon, Margaret Guido, Molly Cotton, Margaret Drower, Joan du Plat Taylor, Beatrice de Cardi, Veronica Seton Williams, Olwen Brogan and Mary Leakey). Seeing a highly capable woman managing enormous sites and teams (while also dealing with her volatile celebrity colleague/husband), may have offered an instructive role model for many.

Ironically a major barrier to wider recognition of Tessa’s work outside specialist circles is her last name, Wheeler. As the first wife of a man who by all accounts was incredibly charismatic (while also having some questionable ethics), discerning her real role in their archaeological partnership is like trying to see the glow of a white dwarf star against the glare of its red giant companion. Tessa was apparently happy to remain behind-the-scenes of the public ‘Wheeler show’ as much as possible, and in this way her marriage was a professional collaboration; while she fully appreciated the power of PR for promoting archaeology, she was also sometimes subject to its negative focus on her as a woman, including headlines like The Daily Mail ‘s “GIRL EXCAVATORS” in 1930, when she was 37 years old.

Perhaps the most significant factor which resulted in her being known far less widely than her husband was her early death, just the year before the Institute took its first students. While some of their excavations were published jointly, as Mortimer continued and grew more celebrated in later years, she was no longer by his side, and her importance was often overlooked. But the countless contexts which fail to acknowledge their excavations as joint projects also go against Mortimer’s own acknowledgement of the debt he owed her as an equal partner (watch this lovely video on a letter he sent to her from the trenches).

Jessica Bryan, Senior Archaeologist, MOLA.

Jessica Bryan, Senior Archaeologist, MOLA.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and it’s at MOLA, the 21st century field and built heritage services unit of the Museum of London, that we find our contemporary Raising Horizons counterpart, Jess Bryan. Currently Senior Archaeologist, with an MA and 12 years experience in professional field archaeology, she has worked for multiple commercial archaeological units, gathering a wide skill set including managing and supervising, as well as being a qualified chainsaw operator.

While her Masters degree and training at University of Glasgow between 2007-8 was focused on the end-point of excavations – archaeological finds – Jess is most passionate about field archaeology. After several years gaining experience with different archaeological units, in 2010 she worked for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Kent, and the same year became a Senior Archaeologist with MOLA. She speaks of the thrill that discovering the material past brings, with the knowledge that there will always be something surprising whatever the site, whether large or small, urban or rural, major infrastructure.

Jess is also committed to positive working practices, and is Secretary of the Archaeologists Branch of Prospect Union, a supporter of Raising Horizons. She understands the importance of having a supportive mentor, not just for training but motivation: on her first ever excavation, when she presented her supervisor with a natural pebble they were still encouraging!

Jess has worked on some of London’s most important digs of recent years, including the Crossrail development at Broadgate, and the Bloomberg development (called “Pompeii of the North”, with 10,000 finds!). Like Tessa, she is also involved in outreach activities, although she takes more of a lead: writing for Day of Archaeology (including about sewers– promise it’s worth reading!), and MOLA’s Walbrook Discovery Programme. She’s also contributed to TrowelBlazers with a post on Audrey Williams, who excavated the famous Roman Mithras Temple in London, which Jess herself worked on when 1960s reconstruction was moved during major excavations by MOLA. And in a nice link back to Tessa, Audrey Williams also worked at Verulamium Museum. Everywhere you look, there are trowelblazing connections!

Written by Becky.


This pairing of women for our Raising Horizons exhibition are connected by some of the most incredible extinct creatures of the Jurassic world: pterosaurs, or “flying dragons” as they were once described.

Mary Anning and Dr Lorna Steel


Sketch of Mary Anning by Henry De la Beche. Used with permission of Roderick Gordon

Among pioneering women in science, Mary Anning has gained some measure of recognition, with increasing coverage in popular media including articles and books. Yet she is still not widely known (our Raising Horizons partner, Leonora Saunders, had not heard of her), and while her story is dramatic and engaging– beginning with a baby struck by lightning– some details are just as important to issues central to Raising Horizons today, nearly 200 years after she was alive.

We’ve written briefly about Mary before, and for once her wikipedia entry is respectably comprehensive. She was born in the year of the French Revolution, and was raised in a family of religious dissenters, who as a group were explicitly discriminated against (even if she had been educated- and male- she would still have been barred from university). Intriguingly, the Congregationalists promoted education for the poor, and Mary is known to have read an essay written by her own pastor urging the study of geology. With this background, plus a father who (despite a respectable profession as a cabinet maker) got involved in protests against food shortages, Mary may have been raised in an unusually socially-aware situation. It seems also somehow symbolic that the family home was sited in a marginal location: on a bridge so close to the sea, that it was flooded during storms.

Anning’s career as a professional palaeontologist (she both collected and studied her fossils) began as a child, helping her father as a way to earn a bit of extra money. When he died leaving them with no income, although her mother and brother had also been collecting, it was Mary who took charge and developed this into a business, in the process becoming a genuine expert. She was by necessity self-taught, and not only examined carefully the fossils she found, but also consulted the scientific literature when she could, even copying articles by hand. In addition, she undertook dissections of animals to better understand the things she was finding; for example she deduced that certain unusual stones were in fact coprolites.

In 1826, sixteen years after her father’s death, and by this time well-known within scientific circles the discoverer of extraordinary finds furnishing many collections and museums, she opened up her own shop premises: “Anning’s Fossil Depot”. Nearly 20 years later, she informed a king visiting her shop that “I am well known throughout Europe”. Yet Mary was also keenly aware that she was getting a raw deal in scientific terms, with upper class men being able to publish and take the credit for her discoveries once she had sold them. Even where she was occasionally mentioned in the literature, she was never offered the opportunity to co-author her finds, and it was only in 2015 that a significant fossil was named after her (Ichthyosaurus anningae). However Anning did form some supportive fossiling relationships, including with other women, some of whom she trained and collaborated with, like Elizabeth Philpott and Charlotte Murchison (another Raising Horizons woman).

If Anning had been born in more fortunate circumstances, she might never discovered her skills as a palaeontologist. However it is certain that she had intelligence, curiosity and drive (and perhaps a biting wit, according to contemporary Gideon Mantell). If she had lived in the later 20th century, she would not have faced the same level of exclusion from scientific circles (it was only on her death that the Geological Society moved to publically recognize her achievements).  We can perhaps imagine her finding a role in an illustrious museum which permitted her to pursue fieldwork and research, surrounded by amazing fossils she didn’t have to sell… much like her contemporary Raising Horizons counterpart.

Dr Lorna Steele

Dr Lorna Steel with a Rhamphorhynchus (pterosaur) fossil from Germany, which was purchased by the museum about ten years after Mary Anning died

Lorna Steel is Senior Curator in Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum, London, and is responsible for various fossil collections such as crocodiles and their relatives, as well as the important pterosaur collection, including one of the “flying dragons” found by Anning.

Lorna’s background is in studying these amazing creatures. Following undergraduate and Masters degrees, her PhD examined the palaeohistology of pterosaurs– the microanatomy of the fossils. What Anning would have made of this can only be speculation, but given the detailed attention she paid to her specimens it is likely she would have jumped at the chance to examine them in this way (and the first microscopic studies of pterosaurs do date back to the mid-19th century, on British material, so this was cutting edge in her time too, even if the microscopes were a bit different!).

After her PhD, Lorna worked at the Dinosaur Isle Museum as Education Officer and Curator, before joining the Natural History Museum, London in 2006. As part of Lorna’s role, she collaborates on different research, including in 2015 a large scale digitization project called “eMesozoic”, as part of wider aims put the whole of the Natural History Museum’s British Mesozoic (Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous) fossils online. Most recently, she has been working with external researchers using the collections, in particular the fossil crocodiles and fossil birds.

Lorna is also committed to public outreach as well as academic research, and operates two of the Museum’s special collections twitter accounts. In a lovely echo back to the young fossil-hunting Mary Anning, Lorna was the curator who accepted the donation of Vectidraco daisymorrisae, a new pterosaur species discovered in 2008 by 5 year old Daisy Morris, and named after her in 2013.


Written by Becky.


This pairing of Raising Horizons women are linked through their connections to questions of African identity and colonial archaeology.

Gertrude Caton Thompson and Dr Peggy Brunache

RAI 36032 Portrait of Gertrude Caton Thompson. Photograph by Ramsey & Muspratt, Cambridge, 1938. Copyright The Royal Anthropological Institute. All rights reserved. Not to be reused without permission. 

RAI 36032 Portrait of Gertrude Caton Thompson. Photograph by Ramsey & Muspratt, Cambridge, 1938. Copyright The Royal Anthropological Institute. All rights reserved. Not to be reused without permission.

We have written about G. C. T. (she calls herself that in her photo albums, so we feel it’s ok!) twice before on TrowelBlazers, but there’s so much more that can be said about this pioneering archaeologist of the early-mid 20th century.
Her extensive links to other trowelblazers are significant, as they point to the influence that senior women had on her, and she in her turn had on the next generation of archaeologists. Just as she was taking an active role in the burgeoning women’s suffrage movement, her interest in the past was increased by attending lectures given by Sarah Paterson at the British Museum. After a war-time hiatus, from 1921 she was taught by Dorothea Bate and Margaret Murray, later joining the latter and likely Hilda Petrie on excavations in Egypt that winter, before continuing her education at Newnham, Cambridge. Blanche Athena Clough was President at this time, and she must also have met other women studying history, classics and archaeology, like Jane Harrison.

During the 1920s Caton Thompson ensured she was superbly well-trained in a wide range of fields, and gained experience in different regions: she dug in Malta with Margaret Murray and Edith Guest in 1922, then in 1924 returned to Egypt, including with Winifred and Guy Brunton. Here she began to develop her interests in scientific investigation of settlement and landscape, and over the next several decades she brought her multi-disciplinary knowledge to bear on many sites in the Middle and Near East, with a scientific, systematic approach to excavation and frequent collaborations, including with Elinor Gardner.

While Caton Thompson’s career extended for many later years, it was in 1929 that she took one of the few individuals she directly trained with her to the field- a young Kathleen Kenyon. Together with another young woman, Dorothy Norie, the small team funded by the British Association aimed to undertake work at the iconic site of Great Zimbabwe, whose cultural origins had been under dispute. A mix of racist presumption and biblical mythologies had led to claims of non-local influences.

Just getting to the then-Rhodesia was a trial: it was a solid month’s journey from Egypt, battling floods and rail strikes, but enlivened by stopping at Kharga on Christmas Day in order to scope out future fieldwork potential (and consume a packed dinner of champagne, turkey and plum pudding). Once at Great Zimbabwe, the project was extensive and challenging: in addition to working at Great Zimbabwe itself, the team surveyed and dug five other sites, which included overnight sleeping in cars and avoiding leopards.

In the end, by using the cutting-edge stratigraphic techniques Caton Thompson was a world expert in, she confirmed earlier work suggesting that these imposing structures had indeed been built by the indigenous Bantu population. Whilst there is some tension with an outsider in a colonial context deciding on the authenticity of native culture, the importance of this archaeological finding in political terms is shown by the re-naming of Rhodesia in the 1960s to its current “Zimbabwe”. Even if she was acting from a scientific motive rather than an anti-racist one, Caton Thompson’s legacy remains to this day.

Dr Peggy Brunache, photo used with permission.

Dr Peggy Brunache, photo used with permission.

Issues of identity and origins are central to the work of Dr Peggy Brunache, lecturer at University of Dundee and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. A Haitian-American who was raised in Florida by working class immigrant parents, Peggy’s career has focused on the history and archaeology of diasporic communities of America and the Caribbean, from colonial to modern times. In particular, she explores how food, and its archaeology, is about who we are. She notes: “Food has never been about the simple act of consumption and survival. It unites communities and conjures up nostalgia.”

Peggy was always interested in science, but after being unable to pursue screen writing at college, she took anthropology courses and got interested in archaeology as a hands-on pursuit. Following museum experience, she took Kathleen Deagan’s fieldschool at St. Augustine, Florida, and was hooked. Following this, in the early 1990s Peggy wanted to develop her experience of the sector through working in cultural resources management (heritage and commercial archaeology), rather than immediately pursuing another degree. This allowed her expand her skills with various companies along the eastern seaboard of America (listen to Peggy speaking her about her experience as a Black woman in CRM, and her wider career.)

Drawn to study the history and archaeology of diaspora communities, Peggy then gained an MA at University of South Carolina looking at the transatlantic slave trade by examining the spatial archaeology of a palace complex in Benin, West Africa. For her subsequent PhD at the University of Texas with Professor Maria Franklin, she focused on Caribbean archaeology, and chose Guadeloupe to research how enslaved women expressed their identity through their cuisine (read her thesis here).

She moved to Scotland in 2007 for personal reasons, began a family, and finished her PhD thesis. Since then she has taught American and Caribbean history and archaeology to students at different institutions (read about her experience teaching at Edinburgh here), echoing her desire to make academia accessible.

In 2015 Peggy was a Visiting Scholar at Northern Kentucky University and worked as a senior collaborator with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the Parker Academy project, investigating the site of one of the first schools to offer racially and gender integrated classes to children in the US. In 2016 she received a prestigious Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship to direct future excavations, archive research and public outreach in collaboration with the Freedom Center.

Peggy’s research has indicated that modern day “Creole” and “Soul Food” has a heritage that stems from the foods eaten by enslaved populations of the Caribbean plantations, and today she also shares her interests in culture and food outside academia, appearing regularly on BBC Radio Scotland’s Kitchen Café, and acting as culinary consultant to the acclaimed Scottish ‘Southern Fried’ Food Festival. She can be seen in upcoming BBC 2 series ‘A Black History of Britain’.


Written by Becky


The connection between these two Raising Horizons women lies in their excavations of two of the world’s most important early urban settlements, links with the Institute of Archaeology, London, and their legacy of fieldwork training for other archaeologists.

Dame Kathleen Kenyon and Shahina Farid

In 1958 a crisis meeting was called at the newly-sited Institute of Archaeology, in London; the beloved canine companions of one of its most important members of staff had been banned, and in retaliation, she had resigned. Eventually a compromise was reached, with permission for the dogs to remain in the car park, but this episode shows both the strong character of Kathleen Kenyon, and the influence she held.
Kenyon’s three great loves have been referred to as “archaeology, dogs and gin”, and while the Institute might have wished for less of the second, her commitment to her discipline is a major factor in the development of British 20th century archaeology.

Kathleen Kenyon. Image from: Reynolds, A. 2011. From the Archives. Archaeology International 13:112-118, DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/ai.1321

Kathleen Kenyon. Image from: Reynolds, A. 2011. From the Archives. Archaeology International 13:112-118, DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/ai.1321

It might seem that Kathleen Kenyon was destined for archaeological greatness with a scholarly father who happened to also be Director of the British Museum, but she worked her way to her Damehood. In her early years, she was mentored and trained by many other trowelblazers. She was part of Gertrude Caton Thompson‘s all-female team at Great Zimbabwe, where she surveyed, took photographs (and did a spot of car repair), and later trained with Tessa Verney Wheeler. It was this latter which laid the groundwork for one of her major contributions to archaeology, the Wheeler-Kenyon method of excavation which focuses on understanding the stratigraphic succession of sites.

Kenyon worked on several sites during the 1930s and 40s, but between 1952-9 she was invited to review the extensive works undertaken at Jericho, possibly the world’s oldest urban settlement. Her application of rigorous excavation methods to the site was a greater achievement than the investigation of its biblical veracity, and has stood the test of time. Her importance to archaeology goes beyond this, as Kenyon became a key figure in the professionalisation of archaeology, especially as a founder, and eventual Director of, the Institute of Archaeology, and an early practitioner of science communication.  Furthermore it was also at Jericho and Kenyon’s other sites that many women who went on to become archaeologists gained key fieldwork experience, including Margaret Collingridge, Honor Frost and Kay Prag, who wrote up Kenyon’s later excavations in Jerusalem after her death.


Shahina Farid‘s archaeological journey also started at the British Museum, but rather than her Dad running it like Kenyon, she came on a school trip, was entranced by the Tutankhamun exhibition, and began volunteering on excavations- her first was a complex multi-period London dig. Following a degree, she honed her fieldwork skills by working in the commercial archaeological sector, in the UK (for example on projects related to the extension of the Jubilee tube line in London) and the Near and Middle East, as well as Turkish research projects for the British Institute at Ankara.

Shahina’s great legacy project, like Jericho for Kenyon, is the Neolithic ‘town’ of Çatalhöyük, a World Heritage site in modern Turkey with a long history at the Institute of Archaeology. Based on the reputation of her extensive excavation experience, including mudbrick architecture and burials, she was invited to become the Field Director and Project Co-ordinator. She stayed in that role for 17 years (as a member of the Institute at UCL), overseeing the project, which became an archaeological by-word for cutting edge, experimental approaches, founded on meticulous excavation standards. Her direction of the fieldwork and wider project, including the complex stratigraphy, allowed teams of specialists to understand details of daily life at an entirely new scale, advance new interpretations about the society that created this fascinating site, and underpinned the unparalleled approach to public archaeology and outreach at Çatalhöyük.

After leaving her role in Turkey, in 2012 Shahina joined English Heritage, as Co-Ordinator of Scientific Dating (read about their work here), but retains her links to the Middle East having been elected Honorary Secretary for the British Institute at Ankara in 2014. Shahina’s impact on archaeology extends beyond particular sites, periods or methods however, through the hundreds of students she trained and mentored over nearly two decades, a legacy and network just as important as Kenyon’s.


Written by Becky

Sources include Michael Baltar’s “The Goddess and the Bull” and Miriam Davis’ “Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging Up the Holy Land”