Leading archeologist Jane Moon and her husband Dr Robert Killick share the secret of a successful working partnership. The couple are leading a team of 16 to unearth the old Babylonian settlement of Nasiriyah.
The archaeology of Iraq is arguably the most important in the world, but in the last decades has suffered terribly from looting and a brain- drain of experts. We put together the Ur Region Archaeology Project to help raise its profile and re-start world-class research in the land of Sumer and Babylonia. The ancient heritage, something shared by all Iraqis, is a unifying influence, with potential for employment, tourism and international prestige. This is where civilization began, and my first taste of Iraqi archaeology in 1976 hooked me for life.
Archaeology is always teamwork. I am currently co-directing a project in southern Iraq with my husband, Dr Robert Killick, and with Professor Stuart Campbell, Head of Archaeology at the University of Manchester. In addition, we have four Iraqi archaeologists, all male, and ten other international archaeologists and specialists, six men and four women, excavating Tell Khaiber. This is an Old Babylonian settlement of c. 2,000 BCE near to Nasiriyah. Tasks and specialisms are not assigned by gender: two women and two men work at the ‘coal face’, doing the detailed electronic recording and supervising local workmen, and getting down and digging alongside them when necessary. Those in charge of the detailed cataloguing, photography and recording of pottery back at the house happen to be men.
Some people think that women are better at ‘fiddly’ jobs like conservation. It is not necessarily so. While the men have more freedom to be matey with the workmen – clapping them on the back, joking with them, and so on – the women develop a different kind of relationship, which is just as effective. It all comes down to personality. It is the same with communication: I have worked with people who never managed to put a coherent Arabic sentence together, and yet communicated really well.
Working for a husband-and-wife team could be a nightmare, I imagine. We make a conscious effort to be in agreement with every decision before we bring it to the rest of the team, and to support each other in public, saving any difference of opinion, if applicable, for later, in private! We do have different skills, though: Robert is better with numbers, so keeps the accounts, and knows more about the planning technology. I have more patience with the small objects, and enjoy the PR aspects of the job more than he does. Whether that is Mars and Venus at work, or just personality difference again, I have no idea.
The only other international team working in the area is one from La Sapienza University in Rome. The directorship is again a male-female partnership, but only in a professional sense: both directors are married to people who have nothing to do with archaeology. They work with an otherwise all-female team, and a female inspector from the local Antiquities Office (also headed by a woman) works with them seasonally.
In the Middle East, teams can spend three months or more living in cramped and uncomfortable conditions, working extremely hard. Nerves can, and do, fray. From 30 years of excavating in Iraq and the Gulf, I have noticed over and over again that differences in age, nationality, education or background make little difference. However, the most harmonious teams I have been with have had a reasonable gender balance. Perhaps others have a different experience.
Everyone who takes an interest and follows our work is important to us. Heritage is for everyone, and we share our results as widely as possible – on the website www.urarchaeology.org, on Twitter@EaNasir and on Facebook www.facebook.com/tellkhaiber. We are asked to be discreet though, about actual finds while in the field, as looting is still a danger. We need another five seasons to unlock the secrets of our Old Babylonian settlement c.1900-1500 BCE, with its enigmatic vast public building, and we need to raise $900,000 to do that. It’s proving really tough, but so worth it!