Close your eyes and imagine this. It is the 1930s and, as Nazism starts to flex its muscles in Europe, you are in the Middle East bouncing along a rough road on your way to visit an archaeological dig. The excavation is taking place on Mount Carmel, fabled site of the Prophet Elijah’s burning alter, and archaeologists are digging deep to uncover the roots of humanity in the region.
So far, so Indiana Jones. Except that when you arrive and walk through the tented camp to the trenches, you realize that almost every single person — from the Palestinian excavators and overseers, to the Cambridge University team directing the project — is a woman. Because this isn’t a feminist fantasy — this is Dorothy Garrod’s excavation project at the Carmel Caves, and it’s the reality.
If you are surprised, I don’t blame you. I felt much the same when I dug deeper into the story of a hero of mine, the pioneering palaeontologist Dorothea Bate.