The archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon is one of the most well-known European academics who have devoted their lives to researching the ancient history of the area Holy Land.In a recent she is described as “a modest woman who had confidence in her own judgement'…
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In a recent, somewhat quirky biography, she is described as “a modest woman who had confidence in her own judgement, a kind woman who did not suffer fools easily, and a pioneer in her discipline who many found insufficiently ‘academic’. She was known for her love of dogs, pink gin, and digging.”1 Kathleen Kenyon was certainly unconventional by the standards of her Edwardian youth, and it is this determination to step aside from the restrictions of convention in her work as much as in her private life which made her such a significant contributor to the field of biblical archaeology. Birth, Education, and Youth It seems that from the moment of her birth, Kathleen Kenyon was destined to follow a career in the field of biblical archaeology. She was born on the 5th of January, 1906, as the eldest daughter of the eminent but rather shy biblical scholar, Sir Frederic Kenyon. The family was an ancient one, with lands in Shropshire; the Greek and Latin scholar Frederic and his wife had a family home in Harrow-on- the-Hill near London.2 This was an academic household with many books and an expectation that all members of the family would take an interest in things to do with history and the Christian faith. Kathleen’s father went on to take up a post of a director of the British Museum in London, giving the family a connection with all the greatest treasures in British archaeological history. The young Kathleen and her younger sister, Nora, had a conventional upper class childhood with governesses coming to teach them at home at first, followed by attendance at exclusive girls’ schools: first a provincial one during the war, and then the highly academic Saint Paul’s Girls’ School where Greek and Latin were taught to prepare the students for entry into Oxford and Cambridge Universities.3 This was in many ways a charmed early life, so that, despite the events of the First World War, Kathleen Kenyon enjoyed an idyllic childhood and access to some of the best education that money could buy. The moral and religious values of this family along with a tendency towards studious activities remained with Kathleen as she grew into adulthood, and she was a churchgoer throughout her later life. The schooling that Kathleen received and her own hard work at her studies ensured that she was accepted at Somerville College Oxford to study history. This was, as was typical at that time, a segregated institution which looked after the lodgings and welfare of its all-female student population, although students also attended mixed lectures across the whole of the university. The value of such a high status family upbringing was to prove critical in other ways also, because the young Kathleen came to know various eminent scholars and researchers through family connections. This key advantage led to her first experience of actual fieldwork, because she used these connections to get to know expedition leaders and acquire junior positions on their trips. Excavations In her early twenties, Kathleen participated in an archaeological excavation in what was then Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe), and then became part of a team led by the renowned British archaeologists couple, Mortimer and Tessa Wheeler, which was excavating ancient Roman remains at St. Albans in the South of England. The man, Mortimer Wheeler, taught her his methods and became a mentor for her, guiding her to take up the latest scientific methods. This activity was broken off by the advent of the Second World War, in which Kathleen performed the duties as an administrator of the London Institute of Archaeology affiliated to the University of London; she also participated in volunteer activities with the Red Cross
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