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Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for…

Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines

by Jeannine Davis-Kimball, Mona Behan

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
The title doesn't do this book justice and although one can't say it's totally misleading, it was misleading enough to make me hesitate reading it. A better title would have been "Musings by a Female Field Archaeologist" as it is an interesting journal of how the same discoveries can be interpreted through the different eyes of their discoverers. Hence the famous "Gold Man" discovered near the village of Issyk in southern Kazakstan in 1969, muses Dr. Davis Kimball, is more likely to have been a high priestess or a "Gold Woman"--a consideration not voiced by the early male archaeologist who worked the dig deciding that it had to be a high-born male, ignoring its size and accompanying artefacts associated with female sorceresses. Another possible title might have been "Ancient Motifs across Cultures" as another theme is tracking the migration of various ancient motifs as they were introduced across geographies with migrating populations. Here she hit a bull's eye for me as I, too, have long been fascinated by the frequency one encounters distinctly similar ancient "animal motifs" (those wonderful leaping felines and stags with enormous horns) -- in Irish museums, in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, in steppe excavations, etc. not to mention all those tales of one-breasted Amazons and human-sacrifice-demanding goddesses.

Assuming that the book's audience was targeting the general public (not art historians or archaeologists) and especially those interested in 'Women's Studies', one can not fault it as being too generalist. However, given Dr. Davis Kimball's experience, I would have preferred she had not dumbed down the topic because she has amassed a good deal of information on female shamans, earth goddesses and their related myths and legends from the fabled Amazons to Irish women warriors. For anyone who has wondered why witches are always depicted with those amazingly large, broad-brimmed, tall hats--Dr. Davis-Kimball has the answer...and even though I have seen the same famous Silk Road mummies with their tall hats our author saw, I never made the connection, as she does, with the way most witches are depicted...so my hat is off to her. Well observed, and very cleverly connected.

So in many ways this book was disappointing, but at the same time, immensely interesting--so a 2 and a 4 = 3 stars. In the meantime, I hope the author is reworking and expanding the material into a more focused tome, concentrating on just one or two of the many themes she picks up in this volume because just as the conversations would begin to get interesting, off we'd be on a new topic. That said, I'm going to recommend it to several friends interested in steppe symbolism. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Given what seems to be a clear title, I expected "Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines" to be an examination of specific female warriors (heroines) in history. In fact, the book is much more of an examination of women's roles throughout different cultures in history. Honestly, this approach works better for the subject, as it leaves little room to mystify female figures.

What impressed me most about this book was Dr. Davis-Kimball's complete and thorough knowledge of the subject. Each chapter of "Warrior Women" walks the reader through her process of discovery, using black-and-white photographs of not only the ancient artifacts but also the modern day women whom she encountered in her research. The book reads like a conversational history textbook and sounds as if it is the culmination of Dr. Davis-Kimball's lifelong research in the field: "It took... countless hours of sorting artifacts," she writes of one discover, "and thousands more poring over bones and dusty pots--to drive at the ten minutes of glorious recognition that the Gold Man was actually the Gold Woman." In fact, the author spends so much time discussing her research process--publishing articles, writing email correspondences, traveling to dig sites--that I was surprised to learn this was not her second or third career but indeed her FOURTH, having been a mother, a nurse, and a cattle rancher first. Dr. Davis-Kimball is clearly accomplished, and reading about her work process makes the book more interesting.

However, the text can get bogged down in extraneous information at times, especially with unnecessary sidebars, some of which crudely interrupt sentences. Page 62, for instance, reads, "They remained--[insert 2 and a half pages of side information]--on horseback, wielding swords well over three feet long." I found myself skipping much of the sidebars and footnotes to focus on the real story. This is just one example of some organization issues that disrupted the flow of reading. The cramming of information into thirteen sporadic, topical chapters is another.

The rest of the book's access features, however, were nicely executed. End papers with maps of the world where the main digs occurred helps the reader get a sense of spatial orientation. A thorough index, cataloging everything from inheritance laws, to oil fields, to transvestites, allows the reader to easily find whatever information they seek. A glossary in the back also defines different tribes and cultures, which is essential for readers like myself who do not have much prior knowledge about the historical periods covered.

Though I am impressed by the author's work, I cannot see using such a heavy text in my own classroom, although it would make for good supplemental reading in a World History class. ( )
  akerner1 | Apr 22, 2017 |
I enjoyed Warrior Women, but it was also frustrating in some ways - she only talks about areas that she's had personal experience with, such as the Chinese mummies, which didn't really fit with the "Hidden Heroine" topic. The title also lead me to believe that the book was mainly about, well, warrior women. In reality, they only made up one chapter, maybe two if you count the chapter on the Amazons, whom have no evidence of actually existing but were probably made up based on stories of foreign women to keep Greek women in line.

The book also only covers Eurasia. In the second to last page, she mentions that an ancient North African kingdom trained women as bodyguards. Why not more information?

I think part of the brevity is the lack of information on general. Really, all we know about the ancient warrior women in the steppes was that they existed. Their nomadic tribes didn't have any written language, so all the evidence comes from burial goods. Plus, the presence of women buried with weapons was ignored for many years by the archaeological establishment.

Still, the book did contain some fascinating tidbits and was easy to read. I would recommend it as an introduction to the topic. It gave me other avenues to explore in my reading. ( )
  pwaites | May 27, 2014 |
This book is awesome sauce. Jeannine Davis-Kimball's interestingly written and amazingly information Warrior Women: An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines was just what I needed to get me out of my all YAL SFF, all the time rut.

Davis-Kimball came to archaeology late in life - or at least later than the norm as she had already had a "life" prior - but man did she attack her new career with awesome dedication. The woman impressed me almost as much as the book, and that's saying something as I found the book very impressive.

Davis-Kimball's focus on powerful women in history is the result of her work with Eurasian burial grounds. During her digs in the steppes, she, quite literally, unearthed evidence of egalitarian societies, of women warriors and priestesses, of powerful (to use today's vernacular) housewives and mothers. And she uncovered for me - what was probably not surprising to her - that patriarchal societies (including the modern one) actively work to suppress evidence suggesting that women were anything more than subordinate to men. Ever. Even today, our powerful women throughout history are presented as out of the ordinary, as uncharacteristic and commendable examples of womanhood, as ones who rose above their allotted space. Turns out that space may have been allotted much later in our history than previously imagined; then again, we seem to operate under the assumption that women were (are) inferior from the very beginnings of time, so maybe that's not saying much.

While primarily interested in the role of women in Eurasian nomadic societies, her discoveries with these cultures led her to Western cultures also as archaeological evidence quite clearly suggests the two societies were in contact - even blended living spaces. Caucasoid mummies have been found in China, and religious and cultural iconography and even clothing styles appear in both Eurasian and Western digs. Yeah, stuff like this geeks me out. The idea of two cultures so removed from each other geographically meeting and sharing is just freaking awesome. It's not like travel was easy-peasy back then, and it takes some serious balls to wander into the unknown with very little and no real way back.

I could regale you with tale after tale, with fact after fact; the book is brimming with interesting tidbits that are both entertaining and insightful. I even started marking pages so I could add in this or that fact to the review. But I marked so many pages that I realized the best thing I could do would be to urge you to read this on your own.

The writing here is accessible, academic, and narrative; Davis-Kimball's voice is relatable, and I enjoyed listening to her (figuratively speaking). And there are sidebars and footnotes - which I love. Unreasonably so to be honest. I have a thing for sidebars and footnotes, and the ones in this book are certainly worthy of my love.

My only issue with the book concerned the structure. There is very little regard to chronology, and at times, 'what came first' actually is an issue. Placing the discoveries in context is important for a comprehensive view, and very little of that occurs here. It's almost as if I am being given chunks of information which I have to piece together myself to see the big picture. For someone very unfamiliar with the topic, this is not exactly easy, and I would have preferred a bit more in the way of organization.

Overall though, I so thoroughly enjoyed reading Warrior Women that I'm 80% sure I am going to break my new rule regarding donating books I've already read. Yep, I may have to keep this one on my shelves. Bad me. ( )
  EclecticEccentric | Feb 23, 2014 |
Interesting topic and I definitely gained knowledge from reading it. But don't believe the promotional material. Its a fairly dry and direct account of a series of archeological digs. Very much like any number of other monographs written by any number of other archeologists it just happens that this one is about burials of some high status women which include weapons. It still reads like a dig report. Pretty interesting report, and like I say I enjoyed it once I got past expecting to see anything even vaguely resembling what the blurb lead me to expect. ( )
  bunwat | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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Behan, Monamain authorall editionsconfirmed
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"I read [history] a little as a duty,

but it tells me nothing that does not either vex or weary me.

The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page;

the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all..."

--Catherine Morland, in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817)
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In his Risala, the tenth-century Islamic historian Ibn Fadlan reported that the Viking women he encountered in his travels on the Volga "wore neck rings [status-symbol torques] of gold and silver" and that "each women wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper, or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of her husband." The richest, he noted, were festooned with much-prized colored beads or large oval brooches from which dangled knives, keys, and combs.

Strength and physical fitness were prized equally in women, and even Ibn Fadlan, who deplored many of the customs of these people he termed "coarse infidels," had to admit that he had "never seen such perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blonde and ruddy."
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446679836, Paperback)

Was Herodotus's account of the Amazons fact or fiction? Archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball, in Warrior Women, an account of her digs at burial sites of Eurasian nomads, finds it an embellishment of the former. But, she posits, women's place in that world was generally more exalted than previously thought.

Nearly one-quarter of the women buried in some late Iron Age sites were either warriors or priestesses. Even the remainder, "hearth women," were important players in the tribes' surprisingly egalitarian societies. Further, southern Kazakhstan's famous "gold man" was in fact, a "gold woman." Davis-Kimball also finds solid evidence of "high status" women in graves as far east as China and as far west as Ireland.

Warrior Women is, thankfully, free of lazy sensationalism. But it is frustratingly organized, with little regard to either chronology or geography. Further, Davis-Kimball never places her finds in any sort of context, be it popular or scholarly. --H. O'Billovitch

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:47 -0400)

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Weaves science, mythology and mystical cultures into a bold new historical tapestry of female warriors.

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