Shattering Perceptions: Durham’s Museum of Archaeology showcases women’s contributions to archaeology

By Heather Beeton, Rachael McGlensey, Sophia Patel, Eleonora Falesiedi, Maggie Birnbaum and Hannah Taylor

A new temporary exhibition launches on the 14th of June at Durham University’s Museum of Archaeology in Palace Green Library. Inspired by the national Vote100 campaign which celebrates 2018 as the 100th anniversary of the first women getting the vote, a group of Masters students from Durham University’s Department of Archaeology have curated an exhibition to explore the diverse achievements of women in archaeology.

‘Shattering Perceptions: The women of archaeology’ highlights the role of women in archaeology from the 19th century to today. The achievements of women are often overlooked or forgotten, and it is the intention of this exhibition to showcase and celebrate numerous women who have shaped, and continue to shape, history through their exceptional work. The exhibition also emphasises that archaeology is not just about digging, but includes critical work such as bone analysis, experimental archaeology, and community engagement. By displaying the diverse nature of this field, we hope to demonstrate that archaeology can be done by anyone, anywhere.

The exhibition also emphasises that archaeology is not just about digging

Since October 2017, we have been researching women and finding their hidden pasts through archives of letters and photographs of their travels and experiences. We have also met many inspirational women to discuss their work, experiences, and fascinating stories. This has driven us to develop an information- packed exhibition highlighting each woman’s achievements through various objects and anecdotes.

Shattering Perceptions features objects that have been studied or owned by women archaeologists from Britain, with an emphasis on women who have lived or worked in the North East. The exhibition features personal items owned by North East-born archaeologist Gertrude Bell, as well as objects excavated from Jericho by the “Mistress of Stratigraphy,” Dame Kathleen Kenyon. The exhibition further displays groundbreaking work and research from women in Durham University’s Department of Archaeology today.

Our primary aims for this exhibition are to educate, engage, and inspire the public. With the stories we have gathered, it will educate on many previously unknown women of archaeology. The exhibition aims to engage the public in debate and reflection using the gallery space to encourage the exchange of opinions and knowledge. Most importantly, this exhibition hopes to inspire people to get involved with archaeology in their local area. Our aim to encourage debates about contemporary challenges has led us to pick our exhibition title ‘Shattering Perceptions’.

With the stories we have gathered, it will educate on many previously unknown women of archaeology

Shattering Perceptions consists of several interventions in a pre-existing gallery which displays Durham’s archaeological history in chronological sequence, from prehistory to modern day. Each intervention will display a different woman whose research has focused on each time period and a different aspect of archaeology. The exhibition will also feature a ‘Get Inspired!’ wall. This wall will provide information about current archaeological projects across the country that anyone can get involved in and exciting projects that some female members of Durham University’s Department of Archaeology are currently undertaking.


To follow the journey of this exhibition, follow the Museum of Archaeology on Facebook. If you would like to find out more, email: womeninarchaeology2017@gmail.com. The exhibition is open from 14th June until 29th October 2018.


All Photographs: Shattering Perceptions

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