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Gender Gap in Biblical Archaeology

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, January 16, 2014

 BAR helps reveal Biblical archaeology’s gender gap

Biblical Archaeology Review’s annual dig issue has long directed readers to excavation opportunities in Israel and beyond. To help readers decide which dig is for them, we provide a list of sites, together with the dates of the excavation seasons and the name of each dig’s director.

Jennie Ebeling, associate professor of archaeology at the University of Evansville in Indiana, however, used our 2011 list of dig opportunities for a different purpose: to highlight the growing gender gap between male and female archaeologists in Biblical archaeology.

In an article for The Bible and Interpretation Web site (www.bibleinterp.com), Ebeling found that only six of the 22 excavations listed for Israel for the summer of 2011 were either directed or codirected by women, including famous female archaeologists like Jodi Magness and Suzanne Richard. The gender gap among dig directors held steady when she added the handful of other excavations listed on the Web sites of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) and the Archaeological Institute of America. Ebeling also found that fewer than a third of the licenses granted by the Israel Antiquities Authority for 2011 were issued to female archaeologists.

"[A dig’s] director provides the ‘face’—and often, in our field, the personality—of a dig,” wrote Ebeling. "The [statistics suggest] that there are many fewer female than male ‘faces’ representing the field of Syro-Palestinian archaeology.”

Given that Biblical archaeology has such a strong tradition of famous female archaeologists, from Kathleen Kenyon to Trude Dothan, why, asks Ebeling, are so few famous female archaeologists now at the forefront of the field?

From surveys she conducted with both men and women who direct excavations in Israel, Ebeling found that while many believe starting a family or having children can often delay a woman’s archaeological career, such factors alone cannot account for the relatively small number of women who lead excavations.

Many archaeologists believe pervasive and longstanding cultural factors within the discipline are to blame. Despite the pioneering achievements of famous female archaeologists such as Kenyon and Dothan—and others like Ruth Amiran and Claire Epstein, as well as current directors like Sharon Zuckerman and Jodi Magness—Biblical archaeology, particularly in Israel, has long been dominated by male dig directors, while women have frequently been "shuffled off into specialist studies,” like pottery and small finds analysis. And even though female dig directors and codirectors, including Jodi Magness at Huqoq and Eilat Mazar at the City of David, are now more common, Ebeling notes that almost all of the "big digs” focusing on major Biblical sites—Ashkelon, Megiddo, Gezer, Rehov and others—are still run primarily by men.

Others point to an academic and professional environment, both in Israel and the U.S., that tends to favor men over women. Despite the fact that women tend to outnumber men in archaeology graduate programs, far fewer women ultimately complete their programs and earn Ph.Ds. As a result, women fill just over a third of the tenure or tenure-track faculty positions in institutes and departments of archaeology at major Israeli universities; Ebeling says a similar number likely exists for U.S. institutions. And even though women regularly deliver 40 percent of the papers at ASOR’s annual conference, and also serve on the body’s board of trustees and numerous committees, the organization has never elected a female president in its 110-year history.

So will there be more female dig directors on Biblical Archaeology Review’s 2012 list of dig opportunities? Probably not. Ebeling’s survey found that many archaeologists, both male and female, believe that the gender gap in Biblical archaeology has widened in the past 25 years and will only continue to grow.


Tags:  Archaeology  gender gap 

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