The first women archaeologists were Victorian era adventurers who felt most at home when farthest from it. Canvas tents were their domains, hot Middle Eastern deserts their gardens of inquiry and labor. Thanks to them, prevailing ideas about feminine nature — soft, nurturing, submissive — were upended. Ladies of the Field tells the story of seven remarkable women, each a pioneering archaeologist, each headstrong, smart, and courageous, who burst into what was then a very young science. Amanda Adams takes us with them as they hack away at underbrush under a blazing sun, battle swarms of biting bugs, travel on camelback for weeks on end, and feel the excitement of unearthing history at an archaeological site. Adams also reveals the dreams of these extraordinary women, their love of the field, their passion for holding the past in their hands, their fascination with human origins, and their utter disregard for convention.
Agatha Christie is perhaps the most well-known of the captivating women in this collection; her novels gained an exoticism from her postdivorce Middle Eastern archeological work. Adams (A Mermaid's Tale: A Personal Search for Love and Lore) traipses through archeology's early days to find seven significant pioneers who balanced their passions for potsherds, early culture, and humanity's origins with the more conventional Victorian and early 20th-century expectations of upper-class American and European women. Jane Dieulafoy, by contrast, who had dressed as a man to fight alongside her husband in the Franco-Prussian War, continued her cross-dressing for comfort's sake as the couple traveled in Persia. Family-financed, these adventurous women advanced archeology in sites as diverse as Mexico, Iraq, and Egypt, and Adams recounts their exploits in a cheerfully casual tone (Adams's descriptively good-humored prose ensures that each biographical chapter can be easily digested alone or taken as a whole in its chronological presentation). Full of well-researched facts, these tales of seven determined explorers will interest anyone looking for a good adventure. 60 b&w photos.