The Grande Dame of Famous Archaeologists

The biography of Dame Kathleen Kenyon

Read the full original review by Magen Broshi as it appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review , Jan/Feb 2009


The Grande Dame of Famous Archaeologists

British archaeologist Dame Kathleen Kenyon was one of the most famous archaeologists to excavate in the Holy Land and was a great figure in the history of archaeology. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis

Dame Kathleen Kenyon, Digging Up the Holy Land

by Miriam C. Davis

Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008, 280 pp.
$65 (hardcover), $24.95 (paperback)
In the history of archaeology, many famous archaeologists have made their mark. As it happens, most of them—thus far—have been men. But a few extraordinary women transcended the misogyny of their times and achieved great things in the field (literally). Kathleen Kenyon was one such, and her biography Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging up the Holy Land by Miriam C. Davis chronicles the life and achievements of one of the grande dames in the history of archaeology.

Famous archaeologists of both the 19th and 20th centuries have worked in the Holy Land. It is, as reviewer Magen Broshi points out, the most archaeologically researched piece of land in the world. Throughout the history of archaeology in this region, borders have changed, as have areas of focus with regard to specific archaeological sites. The history of archaeology in Israel/Palestine is dotted with famous archaeologists of diverse nationalities; American, British, French, German and later Israelis have all worked—and are working—to piece together the archaeological history of this region.

One of the most famous archaeologists to work in Israel, William Albright, is considered to be the “father” of Biblical archaeology. If this is true, then perhaps Dame Kathleen Kenyon is the “mother” of the field. Her work was certainly prolific enough to rival that of Albright; she conducted excavations in Samaria, Jericho and Jerusalem during the course of her career. Dame Kathleen Kenyon’s excavation methods, including an emphasis on stratigraphy, helped to pioneer a more scientific approach to archaeology.

Certainly this remarkable doyenne of famous archaeologists deserves her eponymous Kenyon Institute—as the British archaeological research institute in Jerusalem was renamed in 1998—as a nod to her achievements. She deserves a well-written biography as well and that, according to Broshi, is exactly what she has in Dame Kathleen Kenyon: Digging Up the Holy Land.

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