SAGES – You have received a gift from Roberta Gilchrist: Girl Power

Merry Christmas SAGES! I have chosen to support Oxfam’s ‘Girl Power’ to match our commitment this year to Athena Swan and Gender & Fieldwork.


This gift will help enhance the skills of women worldwide so they can stand up for their land inheritance rights, tackle the taboos surrounding domestic violence or gain influence by becoming business or community leaders. Leadership and management training along with broadcasts, protests, petitions and street theatre are collectively changing the lives of women for the better. This gift supports our Investing in the Future (IN) projects.


Your gift is Girl power

Your gift is Girl power

How your gift helps

Having support like this makes it easier for Aasi and other women to stand up for their rights. Aasi Mallah and her family were awarded four acres of land by the provincial government in Sindh province. But villagers who disputed her claim evicted her. We are helping her and other women in Sindh province, Pakistan to pursue their cases by providing legal support and representation. We’re also helping to spread awareness of land rights among poorer farming communities, to turn more women into landowners. Because of your gift today we’ll be able to help someone else like Aasi. Thank you.

This gift is from Roberta Gilchrist -Head of School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science (SAGES)RGilchrist_w

Women and fieldwork in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region

In the days when it was safe to take undergraduate fieldclasses to the MENA region (the Geography Department used to run fieldclasses to Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan), women students would always voice concerns about dress codes. Our advice was always based more on health and safety requirements rather than cultural issues. Not surprisingly, the two factors require that both sexes dress modestly. The requirement to cover as much skin surface as possible is, of course, common sense if you are going to be out working all day in subtropical sunshine. Loose-fitting and light cotton garments are ideal. Both men and women should avoid shorts, and exposed shoulders and necks, and heads must be covered at all times; sunstroke is intensely painful and debilitating. So, long trousers, long sleeved shirts with collars, a scarf or wide-brimmed hat to protect head and neck; the advice is exactly the same for both men and women. If you dress sensibly for the conditions, you will also meet the cultural expectations for almost all countries in the region.


Loose-fitting and light cotten clothes are ideal for these conditions

Loose-fitting and light cotton clothes are ideal for these conditions

A bit about today’s blogger:

Kevin White

Kevin White

Name:Dr Kevin White

Job Title:Associate Professor


  • Director of Postgraduate Studies (SAGES)
  • Undergraduate Teaching: Geographical Techniques, Monitoring the Earth from Space

Areas of Interest:

  • Dryland geomorphology, in particular fluvial & aeolian processes, weathering, soils and geochemistry.
  • Remote sensing, in particular processing of optical and radar data for studying environmental processes.

Research groups / Centres:Earth System Science Research Group

Gender and archaeology: my experiences in the field

1. Lyminge Archaeological Project 2014, the grand finale to our three year AHRC-funded project excavating an Anglo-Saxon Royal settlement in south-east Kent, directed by Dr Gabor Thomas.

1. Lyminge Archaeological Project 2014, the grand finale to our three year AHRC-funded project excavating an Anglo-Saxon Royal settlement in south-east Kent, directed by Dr Gabor Thomas.

An extremely vivid memory for me is my recollection of walking into a sandwich shop in Spitalfields dressed top to toe like any of the builders and construction workers also in there for their 11am sausage roll and cup of tea, elbowing my way through to grab a sandwich from the cooler. In 2006 I was working on a site not five minutes from Liverpool Street station, in the middle of some of the most exciting urban archaeology in London. It was just me and a (male) supervisor on a relatively small excavation, and it was really my very first experience of acknowledging that I was a woman in a very masculine working world. We were excavating for the foundations of a new office building and had broken the relative monotony of Roman quarry pits with the discovery of several Saxon graves.

Up until then, most of my experience had been on training excavations or sites that were in the middle of nowhere with a mixed demographic that didn’t seem to emphasise gender at all, apart from acknowledging basic differences that might affect digging directly, such as overall strength, which didn’t always apply. Many female archaeologists I have worked with over the years were quite as capable of shifting just as much dirt in a day as their male colleagues. I am extremely thankful that my very first training dig, the Silchester Town Life Project, introduced me to a working environment based around equality and equal expectations for all genders, ages and abilities/disabilities. Amanda Clarke is pivotal in creating this supportive and encouraging environment at Silchester.

In this atmosphere of masculinity in central London, I was actually surprised to find that aside from a few sideways glances, I didn’t receive any of the harassment or teasing that British builders are famous for. Certainly I have no direct recollection of anything like this. I was there to do a job, and it seemed to me very much that they acknowledged that we were all there to work. I have since understood that my experience is anomalous, but what I did know was that should anything have occurred, my male colleague would have ‘had my back’, something I experienced many times on digs. Archaeology, from my experiences in the commercial field, can be incredibly equalising, often because of the need just to get the job done in time and on budget – everyone is relied upon to do an equal share of the work. Any shirkers, male or female, were grumbled about quietly in the pub after work. What I did feel, however, and often still feel, was a need to prove myself just as up to the task as others. I know that if this had been an all-female working environment, I would have worked hard, but not felt the additional pressure to prove I was just as good as the men.

2. Working hard on site, on the phone, records under my arm and a find in my hand, making sure everything goes smoothly at Lyminge in 2009

2. Working hard on site, on the phone, records under my arm and a find in my hand, making sure everything goes smoothly at Lyminge in 2009

The surprising things for me came later on, discovering that many people do experience marked gender discrimination in archaeology and many other disciplines, and that many people actually expect to be treated differently because of their gender. Since my earliest experiences in commercial archaeology, I have gone back to academia, and am currently in charge of the day-to-day running of an excavation that trains both students and local volunteers. The Lyminge Archaeological Project is deeply imbedded in the local community, but also provides many university students with their first or second experiences of excavation in the UK. Despite running the excavation with equal expectations for men and women, with the aims not to discriminate and of encouraging everyone to take part in all the different jobs on-site, we often still see people falling into supposedly gendered roles. Many of our female volunteers spent a day or two digging initially and have since decided that working with finds (sometimes referred to as the ‘housework’ of archaeology) is much more their cup of tea, a choice that is also completely valid. When we ask for volunteers to dig a big ditch slot or pit section, we mostly get male volunteers, despite encouraging everyone to have a go. Gender equality in opportunity must allow for the fact that many people will be quite happy to choose an activity or role that appears to be highly gendered. We could not run our dig at Lyminge nearly so successfully without our dedicated team of self-named ‘Lyminge Scrubbers’, and in fact we have been told many times that on our dig they feel really useful and engaged in both the project and the local community.

3. Some of our most dedicated finds processors on our last Friday of the dig in 2013, commonly known as 'Cake Friday' as you can see from the groaning tables!

3. Some of our most dedicated finds processors on our last Friday of the dig in 2013, commonly known as ‘Cake Friday’ as you can see from the groaning tables!

It is surprising how many times I have discussed with a female student what I expect them to do and have had them protest that they aren’t able or will be slower because they are ‘a girl’. Contrarily, it also surprises me how annoyed some of our male students are at seeing a female archaeologist out-perform them (I must emphasise that this indignation is rare, but has happened). Having grown up with confident and out-going sisters, an inspiring working mother and an extremely supportive father who worked in archaeology and museums, and having gone to an all girl’s school for the majority of my secondary schooling, it never occurred to me that I could not or should not do something because I am female, or that my hard work might threaten others’ gender identity. I think as a result, many of my students over the years probably remember my disdain of comments like these, particularly in combination with my partner in crime at Lyminge, excavation and training manager Rosie Cummings. At Lyminge, you just don’t get to cry off a task or get assigned a task because of your gender – Rosie never misses the opportunity to point out that her record is 10 post holes fully excavated and recorded in one day whilst 8 months pregnant! Indeed, Rosie has been pregnant twice while working at Lyminge, and for me provides the ultimate role model as a female archaeologist who is completely focused on her job and career, has never let anything get in her way and has been able to organise her working life around her family life always to her advantage. She talks very positively of the support she received from the department at Reading, enabling her to work during the latter stages of her pregnancies – although I must of course point out that Rosie was well used to heavy archaeological fieldwork prior to becoming pregnant, so it was quite safe for her to undertake some excavation work.

4. Rosie (in the black jumper and cap) teaches our students section drawing at Lyminge in 2009, two months before giving birth to Archie.

4. Rosie (in the black jumper and cap) teaches our students section drawing at Lyminge in 2009, two months before giving birth to Archie.

Our primary aim at Lyminge is to excavate a fantastic Anglo-Saxon site whilst providing training for students and volunteers of all abilities, genders and ages, but I am certain that many come away with a better understanding of their abilities and with their preconceptions about gender challenged. I had a great sense of achievement when a male colleague informed me, after my having mentioned something about sexism, that he didn’t see me as a woman but primarily as a colleague and friend, and I hope that many of those who come to Lyminge take away at the very least the understanding that both men and women can successfully run an excavation without discrimination, and with a new confidence in their abilities as a person rather than as a gendered individual.

5. Gemma Watson, current Post-Doc in the archaeology department and one of our Lyminge Finds Supervisors from 2008-2010, teaching finds recording in LYM09.

5. Gemma Watson, current Post-Doc in the archaeology department and one of our Lyminge Finds Supervisors from 2008-2010, teaching finds recording in LYM09.

I have been lucky thus far in my career, and I know my generally positive experience does not speak for every female archaeologist. I am well aware that I speak from a position of privilege, as a white, middle class, educated cisgender female who is unafraid to challenge sexism when I see it. Sexist attitudes or gender-related issues I have experienced have primarily been when working outside of archaeology, and surprisingly have tended to come from other women, (incidentally, something that women collectively really need to work on). While working in archaeology I have been extremely lucky to have had fantastic female role models all the way through my university experience and in the world of work. Male supervisors and employers have too only been encouraging, judging my ability rather than my gender. Never once has it been expressed to me that I might achieve less because of my gender, although it has become clear that women often have to work harder to achieve the same as men. Any difficulties I myself have encountered over my career so far seem less about working in archaeology but rather in academia overall. As a woman, there are many issues I face that my male colleagues will not in such an obvious way. Should I want a family, how will that affect my academic career that is thus far based on short-term contracts for post-doctoral positions? How do I even know when I am being discriminated against because of my gender? I can perfectly understand why many women in science choose a less obvious path to that of their male counterparts as their careers progress. I hope I will continue to aim high and not let my gender dictate my career path, but enhance it. In doing so, the benefit is passed on to men too, where the inequalities or difficulties that they face are much less debated and understood. Empowering women in academia and ‘in the field’ benefits everyone and I am happy to be part of a department that is working hard on doing this.


6. Yours truly blogging from the edge of trench at Lyminge in 2012

6. Yours truly blogging from the edge of trench at Lyminge in 2012


7. End of dig photo at Lyminge 2014 - all ages, genders and abilities!

7. End of dig photo at Lyminge 2014 – all ages, genders and abilities!

Alexandra-Knox_1957_wA bit about today’s blogger: Alex Knox

I am currently the Post-Doctoral Research Assistant on the Lyminge Archaeological project, a 3-year AHRC funded project that is excavating the Anglo-Saxon origins and remains of the monastic settlement in the village of Lyminge, Kent.

I  completed my PhD at the University of Reading, examining the expression of worldviews and belief systems within Anglo-Saxon settlements during the conversion period. My research focuses on the expression of beliefs in supposedly ordinary activity evident through the archaeological record, which I attempt to access through comparing associated burial evidence and developing theoretical approaches to investigating ritual action.

I undertook my BA in Archaeology at the University of Reading and my MA is in European Historical Archaeology from the University of Sheffield.




Deadlier than the male

This Editors post in Geoscientist Online by Dr Ted Nield  was forwarded by Stuart Black (Archaeology):

”It’s official.  Tropical cyclones of the North Atlantic – hurricanes, to you and me – are more deadly if they are more ‘Victoria’ than ‘Victor’.  A study by scientists at the Illinois and Arizona State universities, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed in June that – even excluding outliers like Katrina and Audrey – of the 47 most damaging hurricanes since 1950, those with feminine names killed on average 45 people, compared to 23 deaths in ‘masculine’ storms.”

GeoScientist August 2014

Geoscientist August 2014




First Fieldwork Experiences – Duncan Garrow

I remember my first two fieldwork experiences well…

The first was being down a 4m deep trench in Covent Garden, on a week’s work experience when I was still at school. The MoLAS team were in a massive rush (it was the last week), and I had very little clue what was going on. It was a Saxon site, and I helped a friendly Canadian do flotation all week. It was a strange experience, but I enjoyed the strangeness, the feeling of being deep down below the real (contemporary) world, of people stopping to stare, asking if we’d found any gold yet.

The second was digging an Iron Age storage pit just outside the ramparts of the hillfort of Wandlebury, on my undergraduate training excavation. At the time it just seemed like normal archaeology to me, but looking back on it now, I was digging an amazing feature containing loads of bone and pottery, full of what might now be called ‘structured deposits’. I suppose that first real digging encounter must have stayed with me, as in my academic work I’ve written a fair bit about ‘ritual’ deposition and pits since then.

Like both Jim (see Oct 28, 2014 post) and Amanda (see Nov 14, 2014 post), I previously spent a few years working for a developer-funded archaeology company, in the late 1990s/early 2000s. My time at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit was, by and large, great fun; immensely rewarding, academically and archaeologically. I learnt a huge amount, not just about digging, but about how to read material culture patterning and interpret archaeology in general. I got to dig all sorts of fantastic sites, from Neolithic pits, to huge Bronze Age landscapes and barrows, Iron Age roundhouses, Roman settlements and Saxon cemeteries. I once even dug up a pickled snake in the Bishop of Ely’s garden!


Me on site at Whittlesey brick pits, Cambridgeshire, 1999

Me on site at Whittlesey brick pits, Cambridgeshire, 1999

In writing this post for the ‘gender and fieldwork’ blog, I’ve obviously had cause to reflect on gender issues, as far as I’ve experienced them. When I was involved with fieldwork full-time, I have to say that the gender of my colleagues and friends was never at the forefront of my mind. I think fieldwork requires such a broad range of skills that gender has little effect in terms of who’s actually good at it. The first two site directors I came across (in Covent Garden and at Wandlebury) were women. In contrast to Amanda’s experience, at the CAU many of the site directors and excavators I worked alongside were women. However, that is not to say that the sorts of broader societal factors which the Athena Swan charter seeks to address within academia are not relevant here. They are.

As Jim Leary said in his Oct 28 post, the world of development that you work in as a commercial archaeologist is often a male-dominated one (of quarrymen, builders, digger-drivers). At times though, I felt quite envious of the women site directors running sites alongside me – many of the digger drivers we spent hours machine-watching alongside were more respectful of them than me, no doubt partly because they were women in the usually-man’s world of construction.

A frosty morning on site at Kilverstone, Thetford, Norfolk, February 2001

A frosty morning on site at Kilverstone, Thetford, Norfolk, February 2001

Looking back at my colleagues who still work in that world, we’ve all aged (sadly). Many of the men and women I worked with have made very good careers for themselves, moving on into management roles and other positions of responsibility. But others, including me, have moved on. Some of the women have perhaps done so feeling that it might be difficult to marry the demands of long days in the field (sometimes away from home) with having a family, etc.; but this is certainly a factor that affects men too. I suspect that age and underlying financial circumstances are also key factors in determining who stays working in the field.

Having left the unit and embarked on my PhD (which didn’t require my own fieldwork), I initially found it hard to get back into digging. I felt that, in the academic sphere, I could never match the scale of excavation (and funding) that I’d witnessed in the commercial sector, and wondered whether maybe I should just leave it to the pros. However, I’ve come to realise that, even on a small scale with relatively little funding, you can do a great deal if you target your efforts effectively. On the Neolithic Stepping Stones project over the past few years, we’ve dug some amazing sites, and spent time in some incredible places. We’ve also found out a lot. If it hadn’t been for our (academic) funding, those sites would never have been dug at all, and may even have been lost to coastal erosion by now.


Island digging at An Doirlinn, South Uist, Outer Hebrides, August 2012

Island digging at An Doirlinn, South Uist, Outer Hebrides, August 2012


I remember talking to Chris Gosden (Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University) about fieldwork, when I worked with him a few years ago. He told me that he felt it was important to keep digging, despite the writing time is takes out of your busy academic year, as it makes you think about new things, move in unexpected directions, and always surprises you academically. He was right.

DuncanGarrow_w A bit about today’s blogger: Duncan Garrow teaches later European prehistory (with a particular focus on Britain) and archaeological theory. His research interests include the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition; long-term histories of deposition; burial practices; the interpretive potential of radiocarbon dating; the integration of developer-funded and university-based archaeology; archaeological theory; and interdisciplinary approaches to material culture. Duncan worked in the commercial archaeology sector (at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit) from 1996-2002, when he left to undertake his PhD on Neolithic and Early Bronze Age pits in East Anglia. His most recent book (2012), co-authored with Chris Gosden, was entitled ‘Technologies of Enchantment? Exploring Celtic Art 400 BC to AD 100’. He is currently co-directing (with Fraser Sturt) an AHRC-funded project entitled ‘Stepping stones to the Neolithic? Islands, maritime connectivity and the ‘western seaways’ of Britain, 5000-3500 BC’; as a result he has recently directed excavations in the Channel Islands, the Outer Hebrides and the Isles of Scilly. For more information see the Stepping Stones project website. He is currently working on a book exploring ‘ritual’ deposition in British prehistory, from the Palaeolithic through to the Iron Age.

Beloved and complicated Bolivia 1: Field Series by Macarena Cardenas

Following Amanda’s post about the hard reality of fieldwork, I wanted to share the beginning of my journey to Bolivia, which is happening right now. I am writing from a bus and using a tablet, so please be aware that this is far from a master piece.

A British scientist, an American GIS expert and I have all come to Bolivia to extract sediments from high elevation (~3000 – 4000m above sea level) lakes in Bolivia. That means bringing a large amount of equipment and of course, logistics and planning.

Oh dear airline. The first step shouldn’t be hard: leaving England to Bolivia. We arrived at Heathrow airport three hours in advance of our flights in order to make sure we had plenty of time to check everything in. We were flying with AA. When they saw us coming with the boxes of equipment they had a kind of “fried egg eyes” expression, and said to us ” a new embargo policy came out yesterday, you cannot fly with these boxes to tropical South America.” That was the beginning. No information was available when booking the flights, not even when Joe, the British colleague in charge, called the company to ask if we could fly with the boxes (“it’s fine, you just pay excess ” they said at that time). The other option, sending the boxes by cargo, meant (based on previous experience) the equipment would arrive by the time we needed to come back.

Disappointed and laughing - Joe and our equipment at the airport

Disappointed and laughing – Joe and our equipment at the airport

I love how we dealt with the situation, we didn’t give up, we stayed firm, remained open to ideas and kept smiling. We got to speak to the manager who was very helpful, and managed to change us onto two other flights.  Although that meant we had to wait for 10 more hours at the airport (and this involved lots of running around with the boxes between flights) we could still fly.

Old-new country. Our arrival in Bolivia was not easy either: Chris, our American colleague didn’t get his bag, and the equipment almost didn’t make it to the country because of customs. After waiting and dealing with this we got all of the luggage later on.

Do not judge on looks. Our next step was to hire a driver and his car to get both us, and our equipment, to a location 10 hours from the city. Considering that hire firms don’t use the Internet to publicise their services, there is nothing you can do before you get there. Fortunately we had Ulises with us, the most helpful local I have meet so far. We got to the terminal to hire a mini bus. Everyone seemed equally untrustworthy, with everyone offering different things. We decided to go with the one that seemed to have the largest office (which looked to me like an old workshop after a war had taken place).  They even gave us a receipt… Our instinct about their reliability had failed us though since they just took the money and then disappeared. After hours of chasing and waiting (with extremely valuable help from Ulises), we managed to get the money back, and also to get a real driver with a mini bus. (He is now driving us as I write, chewing enormous amounts of “green chicken”, aka coca leaves, that he takes from a little green bag at his right hand side, and which makes him look like a hamster).

Our brave and fantastic driver - Coca leaves in his hand and cheek

Our brave and fantastic driver – Coca leaves in his hand and cheek

It’s not the language that makes us different, at least not the only thing. During this trip I have confirmed that it doesn’t matter if you speak the same language (I have felt a little lost already, even though there isn’t even a difference in vocabulary). There are so many codes, and procedures we learn and follow even without realising it. That is beautiful, and we take it for granted. I like being aware of this, and enrich myself by learning about others.

In the main plaza of Santa Cruz - people, culture and heritage

In the main plaza of Santa Cruz – people, culture and heritage

We laugh anyway. My colleagues and I have been quite positive, and are really enjoying the experience. It’s great to know you don’t have to take decisions alone, and as it is said: three brains think better than one.

What I have learned so far:

● Use your smile and insist at the same time if you want to get something done (not very new really)

● Always check for “late changes in legal procedures” before traveling, especially for the not so legal

● Love locals and have one on your side if you can

● And, team work is so much fun, no matter the circumstances

I will hopefully be able to write more soon with news about the pretty hard hiking we will be doing into the mountains to get some samples.


The team, from left to right: Chris, Macarena and Joe

The team, from left to right: Chris, Macarena and Joe