Trowelblazers is a new tumblr website dedicated to celebrating the lives of female archaeologists, paleontologists and geologists. These women have been doing awesome work for far longer and in far greater numbers than most people realise.
Our Editorial Assistant, Polly Heffer, had a lovely chat with the Trowelblazer ladies and here is what she found out!
Trowelblazers…join the conversation!
Historical Honey: Hi Trowelblazers! Thank you for joining us on the Historical Honey interview sofa. Let’s start by getting to know you. Can you tell about the people behind your new site?
Trowelblazers: Hello! There are four of us that make up the team: Tori Herridge is a palaeontologist studying cool extinct animals like dwarf mammoths at the Natural History Museum. Brenna Hassett is also based at the Natural History Museum, as a bioarchaeologist, where she uses the information locked in teeth to answer questions about child health and development in the past. Becky Wragg Sykes is a Palaeolithic archaeologist who looks at stone tool technology developed by early humans in Europe and is taking up a Marie Curie fellowship at the Université Bordeaux 1. And Suzie Birch is a zoo archaeologist and an Associate Lecturer at Brown University where she uses techniques like stable isotope analysis to look at animals in the archaeological record. We’re all early career researchers with a huge enthusiasm for the history of the real pioneers in our subject areas.
HH: How did you come up with the idea for site?
TB: It’s all very new media. We were chatting on twitter and the idea just took root. A big collective hat tip has to go to Mike @sizemore, who gave Tori the nudge to get it off the ground; suddenly, our little conversation turned into a great project!
HH: What are you looking to get out of the tumblr experience and what are your aims for the future?
TB: Mostly, we’d like to highlight the contribution women have made to the trowel-wielding fields. Women are still underrepresented in the top ranks of our fields, so a little inspiration from the past when women had to overcome truly staggering odds to pursue archaeology, palaeontology, or geology is always welcome! We’re building up an archive of awesome articles, so hopefully it will be a quick, easy resource for people who need a little inspiration (or some great photos of lady explorers in fantastic hats).
HH: We see you have been writing articles for the Guardian. This article (click here) especially highlights the importance of not patronizing the questions posed by young people. It also expresses how young girls should be given the opportunity to be interested in things like science and archaeology as well as fashion. How did you come by writing such an article and why do you think it is important to get these types of views out into the world.
TB: That one is all Becky! I think the one thing we all share in common is that we totally suck at sitting idly by. When something comes up in the media that rubs us the wrong way, trowelblazers respond! Becky saw the light-hearted answer offered to the little girl who’d written in to the Guardian and she knew that girl deserved a better answer than ‘it’s fashion’.
Becky’s article on the Guardian website, in response to a ‘chiffon-flimsy’ article!
HH: Are you working in collaboration with any other people, or websites, to source material?
TB: We are always collecting collaborators! We love guest posts, and we encourage anyone with an inspirational trowelblazer in mind to check out our submission guidelines. Of course we trawl the web for info, but a lot of our inspiration is from names we come across during research. We’ve been in touch with a lot of museums and archives to get more details on these ladies’ lives and photos too—there are great resources out there like the Breaking Ground Project at Brown University. Plus some have got in touch with us too!
HH: How many women have you got on your list to write about?
TB: Oh wow, the list seems to expand every day, so that’s a tough question. I think it’s our (not-so-secret) hope that we will keep adding to the list far into the future because, of course, there are always going to be trowelblazing women out there worth honouring.
HH: We know you are on Twitter and Facebook. How important do you think social media is in reaching this community of archaeology lovers? Do you think social media helps to get your message across to inspire younger women and girls about what they can achieve?
TB: For a project like this, I think it’s important to have as broad a reach as possible, and our whole site is designed to be a quick, fun read. Social media like twitter is perfect for a short, funny introduction to somebody awesome you never knew you never knew.
HH: Who are your favourite female archaeologists and how have they impacted what you do now?
TB: Ha, this one is going to start a fight! So I think we have to each pick one.
Tori: Oh God. I’m fickle, and shift about a lot. This week it is Dorothy Garrod, who I think would have been awesome to work with. But last week it was Beatrice Di Cardi, who my mother-in-law pointed me to. I did some online digging, and found a 2008 article in the Independent & a wonderful BBC Video. I tweeted about her, and got a great response. What’s even better news is that I found out form an IoA colleague that Di Cardi is still alive – 99 years old this year!
Beatrice De Cardi: 99 years old, I wonder if she is still digging?
Brenna: I’ve just been reading about Halet Çambel, who was not only a pioneering Turkish archaeologist who discovered a sort of Hittite rosetta stone, but also the first Muslim woman to compete in the Olympics, where she refused to meet Hitler. She wins for me right now.
Halet Çambel. A true inspiration…and brave to boot!
Becky: I find many contemporary female archaeologists inspirational. A favourite undergrad lecturer was Dr Tamar Hodos, who (I now realise) very patiently put up with my debating the point of feminist archaeological theory… which I’m a bit ashamed to admit now, as a proud feminist myself! I’m always excited by the work of women in Palaeolithic archaeology (earliest stone age), my own area of research, as it’s been seen by some quite wrongly as a ‘masculine’ subject. I can’t get enough of Neanderthal stone tools, and I’m looking forward to working with Dr Marie-Hélène Moncel in my postdoctoral fellowship at PACEA, Universite Bordeaux 1. But I also love earlier Palaeolithic trowelblazers, such as Nina Layard who was digging up 300,000 year old stone tools and recording them meticulously in 1902, so much so that we can still get meaningful data from her work.
Suzie: It’s hard to choose, I’m reading and writing about so many amazing archaeologists right now, and of course there are many living women that I look up to. But if I had to pick, I’d say Dorothy Garrod because she was one of the first women archaeologists I learned about while I was doing my PhD at Cambridge.
HH: Now we know you don’t want to exclude men from your tumblr, so can you tell us who your favourite male archaeologists are and why?
TB: Of course there are some amazing, pioneering male archaeologists (and palaeontologists, and geologists) out there! I think Brits have a soft spot for Mortimer Wheeler, who really brought archaeology out into the public eye in this country. Of course, one could say the same about Indiana Jones… We don’t feature men on trowelblazers because we’re more interested in bringing out stories of inspirational, pioneering women.
A favourite: Mortimer Wheeler. But, remember…Trowelblazers is about the LADIES!
HH: Are you guys digging this summer?
TB: Brenna will be off to central Anatolia, to the earliest settlement in central Turkey at Asikli Hoyuk. Suzie is going to Ulucak Hoyuk, another very early settlement site in western Turkey. Tori’s recently back from working at dwarf elephant localities in Sicily and Malta, and hopefully will be digging on Tilos in the summer, and – grant funding permitting – back in Sicily and Malta come September. Becky will be working in her new research area of the southern Massif Central and Ardèche as part of her Marie Curie fellowship on Neandertal landscapes.
HH: Thanks for joining us at the Hive ladies and keep up the good work!
TB: Thank you!