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This week

July 14, 2017


I’m recommending that you stop reading the HARN blog and instead go here  to Archaeowomen instead.

Although Anne only has a few posts on so far, what there is is really interesting and a significant piece of archaeological history. BWA began in 2008, it’s now 2017 and it’s interesting to see how things have (or haven’t) changed. Also, what about other places? How does the British experience compare to other archaeologies?

Her two posts about Sally Binford’s remark ‘I’m not here to cook – I’m here to dig’ (here and here) are – for me – particularly interesting. My initial reaction was to smile – archaeologists are the worst gossips, they love to know who’s dating whom; but I also smiled because of the questions the public ask too –  I remember Rick being asked by an aristocratic member of the public if he was the foreman. Who knew anyone still had foremen? Poor Rick looked so stunned, but explained that no, he was in fact the director.

But there’s a less comfortable side to it too, most of the excavations I have been on have been with Rick. We did dig as a team. Also – as will be obvious from the final paragraph of ‘I’m not here to cook – I’m here to dig!’ Part Two – often I was on these excavations as the cook, so that phrase does hit home. Right from the beginning of cooking on digs I felt guilty that I was betraying my feminism*, that by being a woman performing what was traditionally a woman’s role I was undermining all the other women archaeologists. Well, obviously not all, I’m not quite that egotistical! But, it did make me uncomfortable Especially since my reasons for doing it were hardly exemplary – the previous year we’d been on a student excavation where the food had been inedible and having said we could do better I found I was having to, plus it was a way to get paid and I was an undergraduate.  I discovered, to my great surprise, that I was good at it and I enjoyed it so for many years that’s what I’d do every summer: Rick would dig and I would cook. It is where I met Anne and many other wonderful people who became friends.

(*Yes, I do know that feminism is the freedom for women to be what they want, and I knew it then, but it still felt that way)

So, why am I no longer a cooking archaeologist? There are several reasons: because of all the things a cook has to do as well as cook, all the pastoral stuff. I got old and tired and found the students (and staff) irritating rather than endearing, their problems and issues became a chore and I didn’t like feeling that way about other people. Particularly not people who you I had to live with 24/7 for however long the dig lasted. I began to feel like this should be part of the work of the director rather than defaulting to the cook. Other life got in the way, it’s difficult to parent (and care for parents) when you’re many miles away living in a field, these days neither Rick nor I work away for any length of time. That’s our personal decision not a universal moral view by the way. All power to parents who do work away through choice. Additionally, my research wasn’t dependent on excavation so digging and cooking became more of a holiday than work related and these days the ‘holidays’ involve doing child friendly things and we’ve trained our children so badly they’d revolt rather than come on an excavation with us. But mainly because I was never entirely sure of where I stood in a dig’s hierarchy, everyone I ever worked for and with treated me with respect, but it was, inevitably, respect for my culinary and organisational abilities rather than my archaeological ones. I always felt I was having to fight to be an archaeologist as well as the cook which is why I always insisted on getting onto site as often as I could, just to remind everyone that I was also a field archaeologist – these days I suspect that was more my insecurity than a true reflection of their thinking, but it was certainly a factor. And then there was that uncomfortable self image of a woman doing typically women’s work while around me other women were digging, surveying, directing etc, demanding equality and parity while I  – it felt like – was holding back feminism with cake.

Reading Anne’s piece has made me nostalgic for those days of cooking, not for the horrendously early starts, but for the simple satisfaction of knowing I was doing a job that few can do and that I did it well. Research and parenting are rarely that straightforward. But despite really knowing that feminism is being able to do what you want to do because you want to do it rather than being forced into specific gender roles, I’d still feel ambivalent about going back to such a stereotypically female role and I’m not sure if that says more about my own shortcomings or about wider attitudes within archaeology and society.

I shall continue to ponder this and do weigh in with a comment if you have one.

Next week I shall return to Spitalfields, in the meantime – have a great weekend


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sebire, Heather permalink
    July 14, 2017 8:23 am

    Thanks Laura –that’s fine. If you get to the gate at 6am the security guards should have passes for you but if I am not there I won’t be far away so just wait until I get there.

    Heather Sebire PhD, FSA MCIFA | Senior Property Curator (West) | Curatorial Team

    English Heritage, 29 Queen Square, Bristol, BS1 4ND
    Direct Line 01179751302
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  1. Quick review of 2017 | Archaeowomen

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