Are Famous Female Archaeologists Equal in Biblical Archaeology?

BAR helps reveal Biblical archaeology’s gender gap

Jodi Magness

A new study found that famous female archaeologists like Jodi Magness are becoming increasingly rare in Biblical archaeology. Jodi Magness is codirector of the excavations at Huqoq.

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 (, 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.”

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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.


Based on “BAR Helps Reveal Archaeology’s Gender Gap,” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2011.


Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works.

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  • Pamela says

    “Ebeling also found that fewer than a third of the licenses granted by the Israel Antiquities Authority for 2011 were issued to female archaeologists.”

    The question here is “What was the proportion of women to men applying for the licence?”

    Was the number less or more than the number of men applying?

    If only a third applied then no bias from the IAA is proved.

    If as is implied more than a third applied, then that should be made clear.

    And of course the qualifications of the women when measured against the men should be checked.

    Personally I am sure that the women were equal if not better, but this is just a belief on my part. The article should back up contentions with facts not implications.

  • Pamela says

    “Despite the fact that women tend to outnumber men in archaeology graduate programs, far fewer women ultimately complete their programs and earn Ph.Ds.”

    This statement needs qualification. It could be that they are discouraged by professors, tutors etc. However there is another possibility. The women may have freely chosen not to devote the time to the program, prefering to channel their energies into a different direction.

    For me the vital questions to pose would be “Why did you discontinue your studies? What did you do instead? Are you glad you made these choices?”.

    Whatever women’s lib may have tried to prove, many – if not most – women think differently from men and their job satisfaction comes from different directions. So an intelligent man is more likely to accept advancement* – putting prestige above enjoyment. The intelligent woman is more likely to decline such “advancement”, choosing to stay in a position with less kudos because she is enjoying the work she is doing.

    *The side-question here is who defines “advancement”? A topic on its own.

    Is the miserable CO actually more succesful than the employee further down the scale who enjoys every moment of her/his job and is challenged, responsible and fulfilled?

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