‘I’m not here to cook – I’m here to dig!’ Part Two

I’ve been involved in big residential research field projects. By big, I don’t mean 50, I mean over 80 and at one point close to 200. I cut my teeth on excavations in Scotland and joined the Stonehenge Riverside Project when it started in 2004. Before that, my first training excavations had a wonderful site cook. She was able to fulfil a nurturing role, train the younger students to cook and instil a sense of team-work in all but the most truculent students. She had many years of experience organising the catering for the Windmill Hill project and the site director was enormously pleased to have her. She ‘also’ had a PhD in Archaeology.

She had agreed to do that role for two years, and after that stopped. It was only after she had gone that I realised how much she taught me. The role of site manager/caretaker/cook, is an absolute lynchpin within the fieldwork team. If that role is not filled properly, the wheels can come off a project very quickly. On a project with 20 students or less, most things can be fudged in a dig of 3 weeks or less. But more and/or for longer is effectively a campaign, a village, a temporary camp and living space. The dig is work and family, it is your life 24/7.

This side of archaeological projects (or any field projects) is almost always forgotten, as when done well it looks effortless. That is the last thing it is. I have never been a site cook, but I have stepped in and been a substitute in various situations, and during the 2008 wet summer in Wiltshire, was working almost full time on campsite matters, and going in the field to troubleshoot on some of the however many trenches over 8 field locations at other times. That season nearly broke us all, but the campsite part was particularly tough. Imagine filling a supermarket trolley with 40 loaves of bread and 40 pints of milk, checking out, unloading into the van and taking the trolley back in for another load. And then checking out, unloading and going in a third time. Daily. It was epic.

Aside from that, on projects I’ve noticed a student/participant multiplier. In my experience on excavation you can be reasonably certain that out of any group of 30, there is one person who is operating on the fringes of acceptable behaviour; there will be one trip to a doctor or A&E, and one person will have some sort of debilitating emotional crisis (illness of a family member/break up of relationship etc). It’s simply a matter of luck where the responsibility for dealing with this falls; the fieldwork crucible can be very hot. Sometimes students in the field are with their close friends and you may not know anything was wrong until the end of the dig. Sometimes people can accommodate those with nearly unacceptable behaviour and the group, if it has strong cohesion, can simply work around so-and-so who is a ‘bit funny’. However, it is a lottery. Sometimes things that would be fine in other places get blown out of proportion. Sometimes the group cohesion goes too far and people on the fringes can get bullied. I’ve been on excavations where a student has simply left without a word. If you have 2 x 30 people, this doubles. You see? By the time you get to 180 people, you have a statistical likelihood of 6 people being on the fringes, 6 trips to A&E and 6 people with crises. Sometimes of course, these issues affect staff too, even you. The person who steers the campsite through these potential pitfalls, is magnificent. In my experience, every site director has had complete and total support for the site cook, as their relationship is entirely dependent on mutual respect and understanding in an often, fast changing environment. It works best as a trusting, close-knit, intuitive team.

So I have mixed feelings about Sally Binford’s comment. In days gone by, when women were expected to be in the home, and that kind of work was not valued as a contribution, it must have been a call to arms. It was a rejection of the idea of a woman’s place being in the kitchen and home, and the fact that women could contribute intellectually in a ‘man’s’ workplace. Historically too, many archaeology couples did exactly that, the wives would support their husbands in the field. But you know what? Some still do. I know at least two couples where the highly trained clever wife takes on this role for her husband’s excavation as a team effort. Perhaps they enjoy it, or know that by doing so their lives will be better though not having a disgruntled husband (OH/partner etc) back after the season. I recently helped set up camp on my husband’s excavation because it was the right thing to do in the particular circumstances. I’m not less of archaeologist by doing so, am I? I also know of at least two men who are either site cook, or who regularly pick up the domestic issues on sites. I’ve worked with one man whose personal and pastoral focus to the learning process was simply awe inspiring, like a student-whisperer.

So – does Sally’s comment inadvertently devalue perhaps the most important role on an excavation, whether performed by a male or female? That, in fact, excavating and organising a workforce 8am-6pm requires fewer skills than the site cook, who creates a village, feeds and nurtures people away from their normal environments and helps them deal with their lives and learn new life skills for the other 14 hours of the day? The person who makes sure the whole site doesn’t get food poisoning/norovirus/impetigo. That provides biscuits/loo roll/plasters/a spare sleeping bag/waterproof trousers/tampons. Who can be discrete and get you to A&E/give you a day off/give you a tissue and an old Mills & Boon.

I’m torn. Sally was fighting to be in the field as an intellectual equal. I think that battle, while not always acknowledged (Part 1), has been won. But we don’t need to reject and demonise the nurturing role and incredible range of skills required to be ‘site cook’. Archaeological field projects require a massive investment and wide range of personal skills. All roles are critical and anyone who takes time out of their lives, and puts in the immense effort to care for distracted, smelly and dirty archaeologists while they dig, should be rewarded with a huge amounts of love and respect. I don’t think we need to reject the role of cook, rather accept that in the past acknowledging the pastoral and mundane part of fieldwork was neglected, and is as important as the ground-breaking research that it accompanies.

This is for the women who taught me so much about the shadow side of excavation – Julia, Jen and with a flourishing bow, Karen. They might only appear in publication acknowledgements but be in no doubt that none of it could have happened without them.


‘I’m not here to cook – I’m here to dig!’ Part One

Said by Sally Binford. This phrase, now on a T-shirt by the wonderful TrowelBlazers! and available to purchase here (https://www.redbubble.com/people/trowelblazers/portfolio/recent) really resonates the female experience for me on digs directly, obliquely and in a rather uncomfortable way too.

Despite close to twenty years of excavation experience, of which I have only missed two years entirely in the field and have had a sequence of rising roles, I am, almost annually, mistaken for the site director’s wife. Basically, there’s only a few senior archaeologists who excavate the British Neolithic, that visitors haven’t assumed I’ve been conjugal with. When asked ‘Are you married to X?’, one needs to have an armoury of phrases to hand. A first instinct might be ‘NO!’, or ‘Are you joking?!’ but clearly, one cannot say that if it’s in front of said man. This is never easy to negotiate as it’s often made in genuine curiosity that stems, I think, from a romantic view of archaeologists.

This romantic view of archaeologists is that they excavate in loving marital teams, like the Binfords or the Leakeys. That the love of the past and the marital love for each other transcends into something bigger in the field. That the chase and imminent pleasure of discovery is part of an archaeological marriage. It makes it exciting and different to the outsider who, when visiting a site, puts together the senior male with the nearest, fairly age appropriate, senior-looking female. I don’t know if any of the men have ever been asked if I am their wife, although I suspect not, because that’s not usually the kind of question men are asked. But having just written that it does make me wonder, and I might ask a few of the ones I know better.

However, in the not too distant past I had cause to visit a senior academic male to pick up some archaeological material. As he was due to be away, he had arranged for someone to give me the key to his office so I could collect it. The key provider (male), on both giving and receiving the key back, was clearly under the impression that I was having some sort of personal relationship with the academic, that again was rather uncomfortable (and quite funny – one would hope that if that were the case he’d have made the effort to be there!).

And of course this continual assumption of my loving nature smacks of the general structural misogyny in archaeology – that both from outside and inside the profession, certainly on research excavations and the academy – the automatic assumption of seeing women is that they’re in the process of fulfilling a domestic and nurturing, rather than intellectual, role.

Due to family commitments, I have retained a peripheral place in archaeology for years but we have some interesting data from our BWA surveys of 2008 and 2016. Women under 40 report instances of sexist behaviour and assumptions in the workplace, but this tails off dramatically as women get older. So women in their 50s and 60s are more likely to report ‘well, that used to happen in the 70s/80s/90s but not any longer’. The truth is, it doesn’t happen when you’re senior. Therefore younger women tend to hear it, and either you keep ploughing through, ignoring it and it eventually ends when you have a senior enough job, or you get tired of it/archaeology/want something different out of your life/more security and consequently leave the profession. So we have fewer senior women in archaeology than we should, given undergraduate numbers have been equal male:female for at least two decades.

So, the good news is, this does stop when you gain enough kudos and everyone knows who you are.

In the meantime, as I prepare for the field again, I’ll review my stock phrases – practice the ‘No – this is MY trench’ emphasis when someone assumes my male assistant supervisor is in charge; and my cold stare for particularly offensive comments. I have been know for the odd expletive too.

Yet – this isn’t the whole story of Sally’s phrase for me……


2016 Survey Results

You can access a pdf of the Survey Monkey results here all-results-oct-2016

One of the things we found most useful in both this and the 2008 survey is a detailed assessment of the comments, but this will take more time – the reason being that people really do have a lot to say!

General comments

The survey was criticized for both being too broad, and also not asking other questions particularly on sexual harassment and glass ceilings. There is a lot to disentangle in terms of what is holding the Profession back – unsurprisingly, short term contracts and moving around for jobs appears to be a very big component. Salaries are noted as being small and difficulties in affording childcare are mentioned – women see this as they are thinking about their future. What is also interesting is the huge breadth of archaeological work and the growth of the industry in terms of outreach, museums and consultancy that has happened since our last survey of 2008 (that admittedly had a much smaller response). It suggests that Archaeology is a dynamic and quickly evolving Profession that is sadly losing a lot of trained, committed and experienced people due to short term contracts and a need for mobility.

There is still an amount of sexual harassment and discrimination, although less proportionately than our last survey, probably due to an increase in survey completion. However, it is still happening, now. This isn’t something that ‘used’ to happen. On the positive side I think that it is not happening as much in the profession, as outside it – contractor staff being mentioned more than a few times. Facilities raised their heads again – toilets? seriously still talking about this?- and again PPE for women.

I realise that everyone will want more detail and it will come! Comments sometimes mention places that could be identified and this needs screening out. I also want to ensure that while overviews are given, they are properly representative of the wonderful people who gave up their time to do this. Thank you all, again.

BWA is a voluntary, non-funded group of women who are trying to highlight issues through these surveys that we hope, will stimulate people who can change things in the Profession to do exactly that. I’m working through these data and those of the 2008 and 2010 BWA surveys with Rachel Pope, writing an academic paper drawing all this together, that will hopefully be published in the next year.

All for now


If you want to cite the survey results, please use

Teather, A. and Pope, R. 2017. British Women Archaeologists’ Women and Equality Survey 2016. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.33073.79202






If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit

learn to rest

This popped up on my Facebook page this morning, shared by a friend from The Body Department http://thebodydepartment.com. While that site is concerned with fitness and other things, I think this note is a useful reminder for us all.

When you’re tired everything feels worse – deadlines are more oppressive, criticism feels harsher, housework overwhelming. But this weekend, the sun is shining over most of the UK. The roses aren’t out yet but there’s plenty of blossom. Take a day off.


Survey update

We have had an incredible 319 responses at last count – thank you all very much! While many of you have no bother, there are still issues in the field and in the office where an expectation of gendered action (taking notes/making tea) is notable. Having children appears to be a major stumbling block, though the issues are complex. Some of you are frustrated about other gendered tasks. The expectation of working long hours for all archaeologists are perceived as a barrier to home and family life, as are the poor salaries. The feedback we get here is just fabulous and while I stomp around my computer feeling angry when you’re angry or upset, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Previously we have used comments, anonymously, in oral presentations as your words are powerful (and at many times hilariously witty and dark!). I should have asked permission on the survey to use these in publication and I will publicise this more widely later in the year. We want your voices, protected by anonymity, but if you do not want any of your  words to be used in this way you can email me at anneteather@hotmail.com with your age and occupation and we can try to track your data in the system and protect comments from further use. Sometimes participants have mentioned sites/units/universities – anything like that will be removed so don’t worry.

Again, thank you.



New survey out!


Hi all

I’ve been working on this on and off since the end of last year and, along with my cohorts at BWA, have this new survey that we would very much appreciate you completing. We had such amazing data from our 2008 survey that we wanted to revisit this – which was always the plan – to see if things have changed. It is a little different although mostly this was to iron out the difficulties in interpreting the first questionnaire.

2008 was a different place in terms of both speaking out about equality, discrimination and sexuality, but also in technical terms. Our first survey was a Word doc, and participants either completed it online, emailed it to us and trusted we would delete their email addresses to keep it anonymous (I did this personally), or printed it off and posted it to me. Consequently the responses we had, while just under 100, were much more effort for you to complete (and for us to analyse the data!) than this method. This should be far easier all round and I hope we will get many more responses.  While this survey is anonymous, the survey will log your IP address.

Finally I (Anne Teather) have to take the lion’s share of responsibility for this. Social media including facebook and Twitter provide fast and open spaces for comment and I hope all will see the benefit of our work here and your contributions. But if anyone does have a problem or question, it is my responsibility alone for finalising and publishing this survey. I welcome comments either on here, our facebook page or email me directly using womeninarchaeology@hotmail.com. The more quickly I’m notified of issues, the more quickly I can act.

That said, I know how valuable this kind of survey is in generating important data for us – that includes other groups such as the CIfA’s Equality and Diversity Interest Group, and Trowelblazers (both of whom we work with closely). We all want to hear from you and hope very much you will take the time to complete it.





Survey update

I have just uploaded a copy of the questionnaire we used in 2008 and the results we generated from this! However I just posted the links (DOI’s) and they don’t seem to be working – I’ll get onto it tomorrow!

We’re happy for you to use this information but please just cite us and the DOI so other people can access the research.

There is a new survey based on this coming next week (I’m away for a few days and want to be around when it goes live!). I hope you will take the time to complete the new one, it will be good to get comparable data eight years down the line.

Mentoring musings and update

I was really delighted by the response to my post on mentoring last week. Over 100 people have read that post with around 70 of them doing so just after it was posted.

It also sparked some great feedback on Facebook. There was a discussion of how mentoring and patronage might be different things (or not?) and highlighted that perhaps this is a bit tough to disentangle. Maybe the question is what do we want from mentoring rather than are we ready for it? Have a look yourself and contribute 🙂




This was the original post:

I was involved in a fascinating Twitter tweep?/chat? today with many women I have been discussing gender related issues with over the years. My feed is open here https://twitter.com/pre_historic?ref_src=twsrc^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author and I don’t mind if you have a look!

The question was – how far is mentoring helpful for female academic early career archaeologists? And the answer seems to be (with the caveat not always.  But why should that be the case?

When we first set up the BWA in 2008, we tried to implement a mentoring support network, and failed. Partly it was due to a complete absence of (and I mean absolutely no) women who wanted to be mentored. We had offers of mentors but much to my embarrassment, no women wanted to volunteer as mentees.

Also, over the last couple of years I’ve been involved with the DCMS events supporting women in the sector. And more chatting there ( suggests that women don’t want to be mentored formally. The issues are twofold – most women who engage with this want the most important women mentors – the most successful and powerful. Those women are inundated by requests and can feel ‘used’ – that they are simply performing an introduction service! Secondly, women don’t want to engage in a ‘matching’ of mentor/mentee. It feels like a bad speed date. So they tend to shy away. It appears both to represent a weakness of character on one hand, and an indulgence of ‘I need help with my career’ on the other. This is all a shame, and the implementation of mentoring networks is not either a stigma or an advantage; it’s just simply to address the lack of equality in the workplace, giving space for anyone to think actively about their career. Peer mentoring was mentioned today as being particularly effective in a sense of again. I have always been astounded that my friends will absolutely not let me fail, even when a time-poor single-parent PhD with no money, and even when I wail as impressively as I can! It’s a wonderful support and endorsement.

So tonight I leave you with two things – the report from the Women’s Business Council https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/456420/DfE_WBC_Two_years_on_report_update_AW_CC.pdf about the importance to the economy of women’s equality; and Hannah Cobb’s tweet about a new mentoring network https://twitter.com/ArchaeoCobb/with_replies . Have we moved on since 2008? Are women ready to manage their careers like they manage their reading lists/work clothes/other halves? Let’s see…….


A new way

Hello and welcome! This is the blog for British Women Archaeologists – you don’t have to be British, a woman, or archaeologist to join in!

We created the BWA as a networking platform and since 2008 we have sometimes issued newsletters, completed some research and given talks on our work. Due to our website forum being a bit clunky, it was suggested we might be able to use a blog to better use. So here it is 🙂

The plan is I will add on our archive over the next few weeks and we’ll do some posts at some point. We talk about equality and gender stuff mostly but we also like to cheer on great work in the field (and not just literally in the field!).

Also if you’re here and you haven’t checked out trowelblazers, you really must do that next