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March is Women’s History Month

Women’s history? Isn’t that about the suffrage movement and the struggle for Women’s Rights? Seneca Falls? Elizabeth Cady Stanton? Sojourner Truth?

Of course, and that’s exciting and inspiring history, but there’s a lot more to women’s history, too, and some of it is waiting underground.

Because archeologists study the remains of a whole community, it can be quite a challenge to separate women’s activities from men’s activities, or even those of adults from those of children. When analyzing ancient sites, archeologists often draw analogies with historically known people whose lifeways provide both clues and research questions about earlier life in a place. Learn about men’s and women’s work among the Native peoples of California’s high desert, within the starkly beautiful Coso Rock Art National Historic Landmark District. (Be sure to click on the small flashing box and roll over the boxes in the upper and lower right of the screen to fully “excavate” this web feature).

When analyzing historic sites, archeologists can draw on documents for clues and research questions about people’s everyday decisions and actions. Archeologist Amy Young researches gender and labor in three communities to better understand the lives of enslaved African American women and men coping with their lives on southern plantations. At Locust Grove Plantation National Historic Landmark, near Louisville, Kentucky, she uses artifacts such as ceramics and buttons as evidence to trace relationships between women in different households.

Not only can archeologists find out about women’s lives in the past, but many archeologists are women! Even in the early development of archeology as a profession, women were intent on practicing this sort of detective work.

In the 1920s and 1930s, for example, several women got their professional start by working in Chaco Canyon.

Marjorie Ferguson Lambert (1908-2006) studied with Edgar Lee Hewett, received her master’s degree in anthropology in 1931 from the University of New Mexico, and excavated at Chaco as both a student and an instructor. In 1938 she began her thirty-year tenure as curator of archeology at the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Another “Daughter of the Desert” was Florence Hawley Ellis (1906-1991). Among other accomplishments, Ellis pioneered chemical analysis and tree ring analysis, completing her Ph.D. research at Chaco.

Learn more about women in archeology and women in early federal archeology.

  • Coso woman teaches granddaughter new skills. [photo]
  • Support buildings at Locust Grove. [photo]
  • Unidentified archeologist excavating. [photo]
  • Archeologist Frederica de Laguna at work Hawkins Island in Alaska, ca. 1933. [photo] Alaska’s Digital Archives.