Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math…and Archaeology?) with the US Ambassador to the UK

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At first I thought I was in trouble. Why else would the US Ambassador contact me? My husband jokingly suggested that I was being recruited to join the long list of archaeologists who have been spies in the Middle East.

Spoiler Alert: No. (and ew.)

I was asked to join 15 other women (and ITN reporter Alok Jha) to discuss women in the sciences. This was inspired in part by the recent #distractinglysexy campaign wherein women posted photos in reaction to extremely sexist remarks by an unnamed Nobel laureate. The point wasn’t so much an attempt to destroy this man’s career as to make the every day sexism in sciences visible by laughing at it. Playing along, I posted a photo of me and Louise Felding in a building at Çatalhöyük.

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I liked the photo because both of us are so absorbed in our work, so completely immersed in figuring out the Neolithic puzzle. Honestly I was probably cussing–there were several burials in that rotten platform and they held us up all season. Sexy? Well, as they say, YMMV.

So I scrubbed myself up, got out the usual business attire/conference gear/that dress that covers most of my tattoos and went down to London. The house itself is a bit funny–very French regency meets American sensibility. Let’s just say, the toilets are gilded. There was actually a lot of incredible contemporary art, but all I managed to get a photo of was the teacups:

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Typical archaeologist, always interested in the crockery.

It was an interesting mix of science communicators and a few scientists in there as well. We all spoke briefly to introduce ourselves, then presented an opportunity and a challenge regarding women in science. While most of the presenters bemoaned the lack of women in sciences, I told them that we have a large amount of women in archaeology, how exciting that is, and how we are foundational to other sciences–providing bridges to computer science and biology in particular, using the examples of the Centre for Digital Heritage and BioArCh at York. For the challenge I mentioned that though we have a lot of women, archaeology & heritage funding was being threatened by both the US and the UK governments and that it was vital to fight for it to continue to provide a link for women to the sciences.


So, as an archaeologist some days you are out in the dirt, being distractingly sexy  doing research and some days you are drinking out of gilded teacups with Matthew Barzun and talking about how important it is that women are involved in science.

I’m not going to lie though, the best part of the day was meeting these trowelblazers:

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Using archaeology to promote the study of STEM subjects

My Day of Archaeology is a bit different to previous years. Back in 2012 and 2013 I was doing lab work (for Feeding Stonehenge and Paisley Caves respectively) and in 2014 I was doing teaching preparation and looking at microscope slides. This year I am technically not doing archaeology at all, though I have been using archaeology. Let me explain – I am a geoarchaeologist, which means I use methods and approaches from geoscience to address questions about the human past. In my current job, which I just started this month, a large part of my role is trying to increase the numbers of students (and women in particular) studying Civil Engineering and Geosciences at Newcastle University. Like archaeology with the popular image of adventure and Indiana Jones, civil engineering has it’s own public image (bridges, buildings! machinery!) and if you say geoscience, the first thing most people think of is rocks. Compared to the image of archaeology which has a broad appeal, it can be much harder to convince people that civil engineering is something they would enjoy. Likewise, there is much more to geoscience than rocks (though personally I am quite a fan of rocks…). This is where the archaeology comes in.

For my Day of Archaeology, I have been putting together outreach events for schools and families, to try and broaden the appeal of geosciences, and to convey the diversity and breadth of the subject. One of the talks I am doing is on Geoscience and Archaeology, using case studies from archaeology to show how we can apply geoscience methods in ways people might not have thought about. I am also working with the Great North Museum: Hancock, to develop geoscience inspired activities for Earth Science Week in October. In a similar vein, I have been writing a blog post (not yet published), on the links between civil engineering and heritage. Back to the bridges stereotype, many famous bridges (or civil engineering structures in general), have become part of the cultural heritage of a place, and it could be argued that their symbolic function is equally as important as their practical one. The Golden Gate, Millau Viaduct, London’s Tower Bridge – all have become iconic symbols of a region or city. In Scotland, the Forth Bridge was recently awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. And of course anyone with an interest in Roman archaeology knows the importance of bridges as material culture. Newcastle itself was known as Pons Aelius (Hadrian’s Bridge) to the Romans! Archaeology is everywhere, even where you may least expect it.


Bridges: iconic landmarks and heritage symbols (images from Wikipedia)