The legend of Kathleen Kenyon (b. 1906 – d. 1978) looms large over archaeology; she is remembered not only as an influential woman trowel-wielder but as pioneer in her field. As a figure of legend, the cut of her vowels (glass!) and coats (mink!) build a towering image of a certain kind of mid-century woman: entitled, empowered, and as sturdy as the famous stepped towers she discovered underlying the foundations of biblical Jericho. Kathleen Kenyon is a woman who left a permanent mark on the discipline (not to mention poor old Jericho), and that cannot all be attributed to her birth in the Director’s house of the British Museum. Her accomplishments are legion: first female president of the Oxford Archaeological Society, excavator of Jericho and Jerusalem, creator of the Wheeler-Kenyon archaeological method, then founding member, Acting Director and finally Director of the Institute of Archaeology.
My own doctoral supervisor remembers Kenyon as a larger than life figure, stalking down the narrow halls of the new Institute of Archaeology building, trailed by her pack of beloved, but terrifying large dogs. This wonderful BBC video tells us that she cut a swathe through the ‘scalliwags’ (clowning underage labourers from a nearby Palestinian refugee camp) with her mere presence and a few sharp words. It is absolutely clear to me that Kenyon’s somewhat bluff path to renown is the rocky precursor to many of my own experiences as a female archaeologist; I’d like to think I keep the casual cultural paternalism and baulks out of my work but her efficient pragmatism and wry humour were and are an inspiration to all archaeologists, regardless of gender.
Written by Brenna
Posted by Suzie