Since moving to Athens, I’ve been continuing to be involved with the UK Women’s Classical Committee‘s #WCCWiki project, which aims to improve the representation of women in Classics, archaeology, and related fields on the world’s largest reference site, only 18% of whose biographical pages are of women. I decided to spend my first few editing sessions here focusing on Greek women working in archaeology in Greece – in both English Wikipedia and in English-language scholarship on the history of archaeology, I think there’s been a lot more written about women from the UK and USA who worked in Greece, usually via the British School at Athens or American School of Classics Studies at Athens, than there has about Greek women archaeologists. I just had a quick look at the two main online projects I know of on the history of women in archaeology: the ‘Breaking Ground: Women in Old World Archaeology‘ and ‘Trowelblazers‘ sites between them have just one biography of a Greek woman (Semni Karouzou, about whom more shortly). This is not to single out those sites for particular criticism, but just to illustrate the general situation, which is probably due to a combination of language issues – sources in Greek are less likely to be read by Anglophone scholars (or Wikipedia editors for that matter) – with the rather problematic relationship Anglophone Classics as a field has with modern, as opposed to ancient, Greece (of course, these two issues are closely related, as this article by Johanna Hanink makes clear). The main exception I’m aware of is the work of Dimitra Kokkinidou and Marianna Nikolaidou, whose fantastic chapter ‘Greek women in archaeology: an untold story’ in Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology has been a really useful source, and whose other publications on Greek women archaeologists and the history of Greek archaeology more generally are on my to-read list.
Anyway, I thought that working on some pages for historical and current Greek women archaeologists would both help make information about them more available in English and be good practice for me in reading modern Greek sources! I’d like to share here some information about a few of the women whose pages I’ve been working on or are on my list to edit:
Anna Apostolaki was the first woman to work as an archaeologist in Greece, one of the first Greek women to gain a PhD, and the first woman member of the Archaeological Society of Athens (1906). She was curator and then director of the National Museum of Decorative Arts, now the Museum of Greek Folk Art (part of the Museum of Modern Greek Culture); as well as studying ancient textiles, she also promoted the continuation of traditional women’s crafts such as weaving and embroidery.
Semni Karouzou (full name: Polysemni Papaspyridi-Karouzou), whom I mentioned above, was the first woman to work for the Greek Archaeological Service, which she joined in 1921 as a curator at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. She excavated at a range of Bronze Age and classical sites, and worked as curator of the pottery section of the museum for over 30 years. She experienced political persecution under the Greek dictatorship of 1967-1974, being first banned from accessing the museum’s collections for her research and then forbidden from leaving the country; protests by her archaeological colleagues in other countries led to her being allowed to travel, and she spent the rest of the period of the dictatorship in political exile at the universities of Tubingen and Geneva, only returning to Greece after the fall of the junta in 1974. She published twenty books and over 120 articles in the course of her career, including guidebooks to make archaeological sites and the collections of the National Archaeological Museum accessible to the public, and was described by Kokkinidou and Nikolaidou as ‘perhaps the most important woman in Greek archaeology’.
Eleni Tositsa: not an archaeologist, but a major benefactor of a huge range of Greek cultural and educational institutions in the 19th century, including the National Archaeological Museum: in 1860 she bought a plot of land and donated it to the Greek state for the construction of the museum. The street between the museum and the National Technical University (or Polytechnic), whose site she also donated, is now named after her. Previously, while living in Alexandria during the Greek revolution, she ran an organisation which worked to buy and free enslaved Greeks in Egypt. Until our most recent editing session, she appeared on Wikipedia only on her husband’s page; Michael Tositsas was also a major cultural benefactor, leaving Eleni instructions in his will to use a large part of his fortune for the benefit of Greece, but her work in using this inheritance to support girls’ education in Athens and her home town of Metsovo in northern Greece, as well as the museum and university, deserved its own page. (She doesn’t have her own page on Greek Wikipedia either; maybe one day my written Greek will be good enough to do something about that…).
And finally, one contemporary rather than historical archaeologist: Adamantia Vasilogamvrou is Honorary Ephor of Antiquities in Laconia, and director of the excavations at Ayios Vasileios, site of the most recently-discovered Mycenaean palace (excavations first started in 2009, after a chance find of a Linear B tablet a year earlier). The excavations have produced lots of exciting finds – figurines, frescoes, a twenty bronze swords, and (most excitingly for me) a lot more Linear B tablets, whose publication is eagerly awaited by Mycenologists (you can find some images from the excavations here). I realised when starting Vasilogamvrou’s page that Ayios Vasileios didn’t actually have one either, so they both now have stubs – fairly short pages – which could certainly do with more information being added by anyone who has time and useful sources! As could many other pages – new editors are always very welcome to join in with #WCCWiki, where there are always pages in need of improvement and notable women who don’t have pages at all. You can find us on the project Wiki or on Twitter (#WCCWiki): we get together once a month for an editing session and chat over Zoom – our next session will be 1-3pm UK time/3-5pm Greek time on Tuesday 23rd February, focusing on LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people in Classics, archaeology, and ancient history since February is the UK’s LGBTQ+ History Month. In between sessions we’re always happy to help out with any editing queries, directing new editors to resources, etc, on Twitter – so do get in touch if you’re interested!