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Digging into the past: ‘Women in Archaeology’ showcased

Archaeologist Florence Hawley Ellis with a student at San Gabriel del Yunque site in northern New Mexico. (Courtesy of Palace Of The Governors)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Women have played an important role in unveiling New Mexico’s history, but their contributions were not always recognized or respected.

An exhibit opening at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe this month will celebrate their work in archaeology.

Exhibit co-curator C.L. Kieffer Nail said male archaeologists have not always welcomed or respected their female counterparts. Their contributions, she said, were often downplayed or not taken seriously. To put the exhibit together, Nail scoured books, journals and even obituaries for information about the women.

“A lot of women have faced harassment and left the field due to that harassment,” she said. “It’s slowly getting better.”

She said that women are often pressured not to have children and that those who do are placed on what she called the “mommy track,” which means they are pressured to pursue positions in museums, community colleges or labs.

“They are not encouraged to go after more lucrative and prestigious jobs,” she said. “They are not encouraged to spend time in the field doing research.”

Nail has a Ph.D. in anthropology and has done fieldwork, mostly in Belize, for more than 10 years. She was working at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture when she put together the exhibit and recently began working at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian.

Archaeologist Bertha Parker Pallan (Abenaki/Seneca), one of the first Native American female archaeologists, holds two atlatl darts found at an excavation. She will be featured in the upcoming “Women in Archaeology” exhibit. (Courtesy of Smithsonian Institute @Flikr Commons

The exhibit will highlight the pioneering archaeological work of Bertha Pauline Dutton, Florence Hawley Ellis, Isabel Kelly, Dorothy Keur, Marjorie Ferguson Lambert, Ann Axtell Morris, Bertha Parker Pallan (Abenaki/Seneca), Anna O. Shepard, Frances Emma Watkins, Cynthia Irwin-Williams, and Hannah Marie Wormington.

Nail said all of the women have had an impact on archaeology in some important way, even if they were not always respected for their ideas or methods. Nail said one of those was Shepard, who began studying archaeology with her father while growing up.

During her career, Shepard worked in the field at Mesa Verde, Awatovi, Gran Quivira and Chaco Canyon. Shepard, who died in 1973, received her education at numerous prestigious universities including a brief stint at the University of New Mexico that was cut short. She left her Ph.D. program at UNM because her male adviser would not approve her thesis topic.

“She is the mother of ceramics analysis,” Nail said. “She is responsible for how we study ceramics. The fact that she dropped out because a man was getting in her way but still went on to make a name for herself is phenomenal.”

Meanwhile, Hawley Ellis also made her mark and will be featured in the exhibit. She taught at UNM and the University of Arizona, as well as excavating many sites, including sections of Tseh So, Chetro Ketl, Sapawe, Tsama, Ghost Ranch and Gallina. Ellis passed away in 1991 and is known today for what some say is the best American Southwest pottery manual. She is also responsible for 300 publications in her field, a number that outpaced her male counterparts who were paid more but had a much lighter teaching load.

The exhibit opens Oct. 19 in celebration of International Archaeology Day and coincides with the Center for New Mexico Archaeology’s open house. The center, which is usually inaccessible to the public, will open its doors at 10 a.m. that day and offer tours. The center is the storage facility for the state’s archaeological collections and has working research labs on site. Attendees can meet local archaeologists, throw spears, shoot bows and arrows, make yucca fiber string, and watch pottery firings.

Emily Hurley was an intern at the museum and became a co-curator for the exhibit. She said the women in the exhibit have left a lasting legacy.

“The women highlighted in this exhibition made numerous contributions to their field and helped educate many students who went on to pursue careers in archaeology,” Hurley said. “… By highlighting the work of 11 pioneer women in archaeology who worked here in the American Southwest, our hope is to help inspire future generations of women to pursue a career in archaeology.”

The exhibit will run through Oct. 9, 2020.

Want to learn more about women in the field of archaeology? Try these websites: womeninarchaeology.com or trowelblazers.com.

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