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Warrior Women

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Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines
By Jeannine Davis-Kimball, with Mona Behan. (New York: Warner Books, 2002. Pg. xvi, 268, illustrated, maps.) ISBN: 0-446-52546-4.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 3, 2002

Warrior Women is a fascinating look at the life, and work, of a real archaeologist, and her endeavors to uncover some of the hidden aspect of the women's history. This book follows Dr. Jeannine Davis-Kimball on her travels through a host of exotic locals throughout Kazakhstan, and she lets us tag along with her on a variety of archaeological digs.

This account is enthralling on many levels. You get an in-depth overview of what life is 'really' like on an archaeological expedition, including the unending hours of tedious labor, the lack of sleep, and the often Spartan life that goes along with working in remote locations. This is at stark contrast to the glamours imagine of archaeologists that is often portrayed in the movies. As we follow Davis-Kimball on her journey of discovery, she allows us to share in the joy of making a discovery, and the disappointments that arise when you find that all you hard work was for naught. She also lets us in on some the often unspoken aspect of life as an archeologist that sometimes arise, such as the danger posed by bandits, government lackeys, working under extreme conditions, and the unending need to find funding for your projects.

In this richly illustrated book, Davis-Kimball details her investigation into the role and status of women in ancient Eurasian cultures, including her endeavors to uncover the evidence to support the tradition that women, in many ancient cultures, held positions of power. Her main area of interest is the women who held positions of high status, and this work ranges from a study of the Warrior Queens of Ireland to the leadership roles carried out by women in the Nomadic Kazak tribes of Western Mongolia. Most of this book is devoted to the women of the Kazak tribes, and she does a detailed comparison of the status that women had in the past, and the status that they now hold. David-Kimball also looks at how modern notions, and the impediments to a nomadic lifestyle, have altered their traditional culture.

This is an interesting book to read, but it is geared toward a general audience and it will be a disappointment to those looking for an academic treatise. Nonetheless her thesis that ancient women tended to be held in higher esteem than is generally assumed is a valid thesis and Warrior Women does much to prove her assertion. While this is not a bathetic feminist tome, Davis-Kimball does make some sweeping generalizations based upon isolated discoveries that she has made in specific regions.

Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines presents a clear and nonpartisan overview of what it means to be an archaeologist, and hopefully this book will encourage more people to enter the field - especially women. The study of history and archaeology has been primarily a masculine field for centuries. Consequently, history books tend to be written from a malecentric viewpoint, and women, in large part, have been ignored. Archaeology has also suffered from this malecentricity. For example, when a royal tomb is uncovered containing a male and a female, most archaeologists often assume that it was the man that was the ruler and the woman is his consort or concubine - simply because this is frequently the case - but not always. The very idea that the woman may have been the ruler is often never considered unless substantial evidence is found that puts the initial contention in doubt.

As this book proves, in many nomadic, tribal cultures, women were more than just wives and mothers. Her findings show that a substantial number of women were buried with material objects that imply that they served as warriors, priestesses, and as tribal leaders. This book would have been more authoritative with the inclusion of more detailed data and an in-depth discussion on how she determined the positions that these women held. While it is easy to assume that a woman buried with a spear was a warrior - this alone is not conclusive evidence. This book would also have been enhanced by more references to other research being done in this field.

While not of academic quality, Warrior Women does offer a delightful introduction to the field of archaeology, and it presents a glimpse at several ancient cultures that is both informative and entertaining. Part history book and part travel monologue, this book is perfect for anyone looking to read an intriguing adventure tale, or who wants to explore an ofttimes overlooked aspect of the past.

Related Reviews:

Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60, By Graham Webster.
Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, raised an army and nearly succeeded in forcing the Roman's out of Britain. In Boudica: The British Revolt Against Rome AD 60, Dr. Graham Webster explores the archeological evidence from which much of our knowledge about Boudica and the revolt has been derived.

Women of Byzantium, by Carolyn L. Connor.
Connor offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives and history of Byzantine women from all walks of life, including empresses, monastic women, commoners, and artisans.

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