“I’m not here to cook; I’m here to dig”

Sally Schanfield (later Binford)‘s life echoes some much earlier trowelblazers; not only a first-rate, game-changing archaeologist, she also forged a revolutionary path in other areas.

As a divorced single parent in the 1950s, Sally faced off sexism, and decided to study anthropology in order to be independent. She fought rampant misogyny within the male-dominated world of American universities, criticised for her “tight sweaters and makeup”, and refused to do all the cooking on her first archaeological dig.

Her PhD was a huge survey of early prehistory in the Sahara, and by 1962 as a postdoc she was excavating a cave in Israel, having already been digging Neandertal sites in France.

Sally’s major impact in archaeology is tied up with her marriage to a younger student who became one of 20th century archaeology’s biggest names (Lewis Binford). Sally was the co-founder of the New Archaeology, an immensely influential movement that promoted a more scientific approach. Yet Lewis is often given credit, despite the fact that Sally was instrumental from the start, co-editing the paradigm-shifting publication (New Perspectives in Archaeology 1968), and performing the first ever computer analysis of stone tools in collaboration. Without her first-hand knowledge of French assemblages, the infamous “Bordes-Binford” debate on stone tool variability would never have happened.

In 1969 Sally left both Lewis and anthropology, and his continuing career undoubtedly led to her own achievements being eclipsed. However, Sally’s fierce commitment to following her own radical path continued, as she became one of the most important sexual liberation and feminist pioneers of the 1970s and 80s.

Just before her 70th birthday she ended her remarkable life voluntarily in order to avoid becoming physically dependent on others, and so she could remain, in her words, “toujours soixante-neuf!” [forever sixty-nine].

Written by Becky (@LeMoustier)
Posted by Suzie (@suzie_birch)

Much of the above information is sourced from the rather jaw-dropping interview with Sally here (be warned it is NSFW, sexually explicit), originally published in this book, and Susie Bright’s post about Sally’s ‘checking-out’. This article by Alice Beck Kehoe mentions the importance of Sally’s work to Lewis Binford’s fame.

Image: A projected photo of Sally Binford (L) c. 1980s, created as part of an art project by EG Crichton and Gabriella Ripley-Phipps (R) [used with EG’s kind permission]

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3 thoughts on “Sally Binford

  1. Maxine R Kleindienst says:

    It is also noticeable that while L Binford was collaborating with Salley, their publications are entirely comprehensible. L Binford, before and after Sally, wrote in ‘Binfordease’….

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