Whilst in the movies, archaeologists are often caricatured as being the heroes, carrying bull whips and falling in love with their female sidekick who often needs rescuing, this isn’t an accurate representation of archaeology, nor of women either.
Historically, archaeology has been a male dominated industry. According to a Landward survey, in 1997 only 35% of archaeologists were women. This has now increased to 47% in 2020. Also in the media, archaeological programmes such as Time Team featured only two women in the programme and one of them didn’t make it into the second series.
Professor Carenza Lewis, was a presenter on Time Team from when it first broadcasted in 1994. She also re-joined the Time Team crew for its YouTube revival in 2022.
Getting her role in Time Team was the result of an ‘informal’ meeting with the producers and working her way up through the profession was difficult.
“I did a degree in archaeology at University of Cambridge, I then went to work for an organisation called The Royal Commission on historical monuments.”
Whilst working there Carenza was the only woman working in field work in the organisation and it was difficult having to prove herself. “You have to be fairly resilient to kind of prove you could do it. Everyone was very kind there, there were a lot of people there who were much, older, and had been working in archaeology, at the Ordnance Survey.
I don’t think they really believed that a young girl could do this sort of thing, because nobody ever had before. You had to kind of prove that you could do it without making too much of a point of it.”
Whilst moving up the ladder and starting to make a name for herself within the profession people mentioned her name to the producers of Time Team.
“They were wanting to make sure that Time Team wasn’t exclusively male, and there weren’t quite so many women working in archaeology then. So, I think two or three people said, they mentioned my name to the producers. And I think when your name crops up two or three times, they gave me a call, and sort of just give it a go, really.”
From there, she had a meeting with the producers and the job was hers. The impact that Time Team has had on the public has been immense with it running for 20 years. Now with its revival back on YouTube there’s been changes to the team, both in terms of diversity and gender.
There’s now a total of 20 women working on Time Team and Carenza says that people have been inspired by seeing a woman in a prominent role on TV. “Every couple of weeks I’ll get a message from somebody saying, you inspired me and it’s particularly from women who’ve gone into, not necessarily archaeology, but have been inspired by seeing a woman on a programme like Time Team.”
Time Team also presented archaeology in its true form. Whilst a lot less exciting than Indiana Jones it presented it in a different light.
“That whole sense of seeing people with that kind of camera on the wall of a trench sort of thing, is before we had reality TV. I think it’s one of the big factors that influenced that idea that you could watch a process, start with something, see how something unfolded, follow it through, all of that was new, when we started Time Team which is amazing.”
During her era on Time Team, Carenza wasn’t told to dress in a certain way and there was definitely no makeup team!
“I was allowed to do what I wanted in that respect. I think there was a suggestion to try and create a character of oneself almost. There was somebody once suggesting I wear really big earrings. But you know this idea that something big and flamboyant would give you a bit of identity.
There was no sort of wearing a low-cut top. So, they weren’t trying to sexualize it. Nobody did makeup at all. You just turned up looking how you were and kind of got on with it.”
Whilst there has been a change of more women in archaeology work still needs to be done.
Nura Hassan, a post excavation assistant, at Cotswold Archaeology in Suffolk fell into archaeology by ‘good accident’.
“It was my history teacher in secondary school he started talking about Neanderthals randomly during a lesson and I thought oh that sounds interesting.”
She initially studied Anthropology for her undergraduate degree at Bournemouth University and later got interested in studying human bones.
Nura has worked on archaeological sites across the world in Bulgaria and Croatia, and here in the UK for the Big Dig project in Dorset.
After completing her Masters at the University of York she wanted to get some commercial experience in archaeology where she applied for a role and is enjoying the experience of post excavation work which is different to working in the field.
“I’m mainly in the warehouse dealing with finds. When a site comes in there’s environmental samples that we process with one of the big tanks getting rid of all the mud and then looking for finds. I enjoy doing that as sometimes working on a site can be quite challenging with all the digging.”
She’s found working in archaeology a privilege but still feel more work needs to be done in women being represented.
“Even though there are more women getting involved in archaeology it’s still a big issue because as soon as you get into higher management there’s more men.
“As a black woman sometimes, it can be more difficult to break into the field as we are a small minority but there has definitely been change.”
These women have broken the glass ceiling and have shown that archaeology is not just for swashbuckling male archaeologists like Indiana Jones but also for women too.