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What Special Challenges Are Faced by Women in Archaeology?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 21, 2024
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It is a rather unfortunate fact that women in archaeology still face many of the same barriers as women in other industries. Although there are certain employment circumstances that may favor either men or women, the majority of jobs offer both sexes equal employment opportunities. Additionally, women throughout recent history have been proving the old-fashioned notion that "men are better at work" wrong. Even though such beliefs — which contribute to employment sexism — are diminishing, there are still many obstacles keeping women in archaeology from fulfilling their potential. Among such constraints are political difficulties and physical disadvantages in the field.

Archaeology by definition is the study of ancient artifacts that give rise to information about past societies. Such artifacts may exist as buildings, locomotive devices, or even the skeletons of former living creatures. Archaeology is the physical backbone of history, answering many old questions and causing those in the field to ask even more. Women in archaeology have played an important role throughout history, assisting on and leading many important discoveries. One challenge faced by women is a physical disadvantage.

While some women are in much better shape than most men, generally speaking, male human beings tend to be physically stronger and larger in nature. This can be an advantage in archaeology as the digging and use of equipment require a great deal of strength, size, and endurance. While machines may do much of the large debris removal needed in archaeology, most of the fine dirt and sediment need be removed with fine tools or even by hand. This takes repetitive action, which can certainly cause fatigue in a weak hand, for example.

The political difficulties facing professional women largely depend on which area they are building their career in. The laborious nature of archaeology has given this field a more masculine undertone than it perhaps deserves. There are many successful female archaeologists who have either intentionally or unintentionally worked to rid this discipline of such an inaccurate and presumptuous tag.

Any woman who hopes to break into the exciting field of archaeology should not be intimidated but rather go forth courageously hoping to overcome these typical challenges. Women in archaeology are very important to the continual advancement and future of the field and should therefore be encouraged rather than discouraged. Hopefully, their continued success will allow the field of archaeology to bring forth more and more exciting discoveries for centuries to come.

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