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Women in Archaeology & the UNB Bioarchaeology Field School

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Written by: Mckenzie Strath

September 11th 2023

This summer, I had the opportunity to work on the archaeological excavation of the Rochefort Point Cemetery at the Fortress Louisbourg in Louisbourg, Nova Scotia. This was done through the University of New Brunswick on behalf of Parks Canada. As you may know, Nova Scotia is a bit far from Vancouver. With two plane rides and a seven-hour layover, I found that I had plenty of time to sit down and listen to a couple of podcasts. This brings me to the Women of Archaeology Podcast. I stumbled across this podcast while searching for field pants with real pockets online a few months ago and decided to download an episode or two for the plane ride. Well, this podcast has led me on my own excavation of understanding women in archaeology and their impact on academia and Cultural Resource Management (CRM).

The Women in Archaeology website is a blog and podcast started by Chelsi Slotten, Emily Long, and Kirsten Lopez to get women to engage in archaeology and celebrate their accomplishments in the field. I was particularly interested in their episodes of badass women in archaeology because I never took the time to search the history of women in this profession in much detail.

This made me wonder why I never knew about the wide range of women involved in archaeology's history and findings. In class, though feminist archaeology is discussed, it was never taught in as much detail as other large critical theories because of how new it was. There also tends to be a discrepancy between male and female archaeologists when discussing historical findings and theories at the bachelor level. For example, Binford is often a topic that is brought up for multiple different classes, yet you never really hear about Margret Conkey’s work on gender and feminist archaeology or Kathleen Kenyon’s work on grid system excavation that is still used today. And don’t get me wrong, Lewis Binford made massive impacts on how we view and do archaeology today. However, I've always wondered why we do not see women brought into the conversation when they are doing similar things. Yes, in the past, women were excluded from academia and sometimes not even credited for their work and therefore, we historically should see less contribution. But that did not mean that there were no female archaeologists. As Chelsi Slotten says, “We are not a new phenomenon,” and women continue to impact how we view the past and use archaeology in the 21st century.

The journal article written by Overholtzer and Jalbert (2021) discusses gender representation in university faculties compared to other positions held in the archaeological sector. Overall, they found that women in Canada held a majority of archaeology doctorates during the mid-2000s, and by 2016, they held over two-thirds of archaeology doctorates Canada-wide. This was similarly seen in both undergraduate studies and master studies. Though Women have seemingly dominated when it comes to education in the last couple of years, they still tend to hold less than one-third of full faculty positions and permit holding positions in CRM (Overholtzer and Jalbert 2021). It is also important to note that Overholtzer and Jalbert (2021) used Statistic Canada data with the code ‘archaeologist,’ which they believed excluded classical and bioarchaeologists. The statistics were also dominated by responses from women of Caucasian descent, with less than 4% being women of colour and Indigenous (Overholtzer and Jalbert 2021).

After reading that article, it still made me think, why? Why do we see a mass amount of women wanting to get involved with archaeology but not being able to obtain these higher-level positions? In the past, many felt that women could not handle being in the field, for it was ‘hard labouring work.’ However, I would think repeatedly that women have proven this wrong. For example, the field excavation at the Fortress of Louisbourg I participated in this summer was almost entirely female-run. All of the students attending the field school also identified as women as well. This field school was run by Doctor Amy Scott, a bioarchaeologist and an Associate professor in anthropology at UNB who specializes in ancient health. She is currently focusing on studying human remains in burial contexts, and her work is primarily from 18th-century Atlantic Canada at the moment. I found it incredibly impactful to be in an environment where so many women could be involved in something they were extremely passionate about. As an undergraduate student unsure if they wanted to continue pursuing a higher education, this field school inspired me to keep going. This summer, the long-tale sign that women cannot withstand fieldwork was proven wrong. I had never had the opportunity to work alongside multiple powerful women, and I realize how important it is to start seeing more diversity in the field. If more than 50% of undergraduate students attending archaeology/anthropology programs at the university level identify as female, then I do believe we need to see women in high postdoctoral positions to set an example for the upcoming generation of archaeologists. Our past is not secular, and there are multiple identities and voices that need to be heard. If archaeology is a field in which we are embracing the discoveries of a new history, then it should be a field that allows for the stories of everyone to be told.

More Information:

Fritz, Carole, Gilles Tosello, and Margaret W. Conkey

2016 Reflections on the Identities and Roles of the Artists in European

Paleolithic Societies. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

23(4): 1307–32.

Davis, Miriam

2008 Dame Kathleen Kenyon : Digging up the Holy Land / Miriam C.

Davis. Left Coast Press

Overholtzer Lisa and Jalbert Catherine

2021 A “Leaky” Pipeline and Chilly Climate in Archaeology in Canada.

American Antiquity, 86(2): 261-282.


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