Women in Maritime Archaeology

Women in Maritime Archaeology

The field of maritime archaeology exists today due to a number of influential women. The early development of underwater research was driven by key figures such as Joan du Plat Taylor, Honor Frost, and Margaret Rule, mirroring pioneering women in other underwater sciences such as Eugenie Clark and Sylvia Earle in marine biology. 


Joan du Plat Taylor


Her contributions to maritime archaeology were as an early thinker and driving force. She was a member of the Cape Gelidonya excavation team and worked at the Phoenician harbor of Motya in Sicily. In 1965 she edited the influential book Marine Archaeology: Developments During Sixty Years in the Mediterranean. She founded the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology in 1970.

Honor Frost

Pioneer Maritime Archaeologist

“Wrecks are now so well accepted as primary evidence in naval architecture that it is hard to recall that, less than thirty years ago, archaeologists would have considered this on a par with Jules Verne’s more extravagant fantasies. This change has been largely due to Joan du Plat Taylor.”

Extended Biography

Joan was born in Scotland in 1906 and her career in archaeology began after her family moved to Cyprus in 1926. She began by volunteering at the Cyprus Museum and eventually rose to become the Inspector of Antiquities. She excavated with Mortimer Wheeler in the early 1930s before directing her own excavations at the end of the decade. During her career she excavated numerous sites in Cyprus and survey nearly 150 in Syria. In 1945 she became librarian of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London, a capacity in which she served until 1970.

Due to her enormous influence in the early development of underwater archaeology, as well as her research in Cyprus and Syria, Joan was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Pennsylvania. Nicole Hirschfeld summarized Joan's career by saying, "Petrie was still digging when she began to excavate; satellites in space and deep-ocean submarines had become tools of the profession when she died. She had not only kept pace, but had been a catalyst in the incorporation of new technologies and methods into the traditions of the field."

For a full biography read Nicole Hirschfeld's detailed account here.

Selected Maritime Bibliography

Taylor, Joan du Plat. 1964. “Motya, A Phoenician Trading Settlement in Sicily.” Archaeology 17: 91-100.

Taylor, Joan du Plat 1965. Marine Archaeology: Developments during sixty years in the Mediterranean. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co.

Taylor, Joan du Plat 1967. “Condition and Treatment of Finds,” “The Pottery” (with J.B. Hennessy), “The Stone Objects,” “Basketry and Matting,” In Cape Gelidonya: A Bronze Age Shipwreck, TAPA new ser., v. 57, pt. 8, G.F. Bass et al., 40-3, 122-5, 126-30, 160-2. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society.

Taylor, Joan du Plat and B.S.J. Isserlin. 1974. Motya: A Phoenician and Carthaginian City in Sicily. Vol. I: Field Work and Excavation. Leiden: Brill.

Taylor, Joan du Plat and H. Creele, eds. 1978. Roman Shipping and Trade: Britain and the Rhine provinces. CBA Research Report 24. London Council for British Archaeology.

Honor Frost


Honor is regarded as an early pioneer of maritime archaeology. During the 1950s, she surveyed the Lebanese coast and documented countless sites. While traveling through Turkey in 1958, she happened to meet Peter Throckmorton and she was part of the Cape Gelidonya excavation team. She was part of the UNESCO mission to Alexandria to identify the Pharos Lighthouse and is best known for the excavation of the Punic ship at Marsala, Sicily. Her 1959 book Under the Mediterranean: Marine Antiquities was highly influential. She helped found or was a member of the Council for Nautical Archaeology, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, Council for the Society of Nautical Research, and Society of Antiquaries. Honor had the generosity to create the Honor Frost Foundation, an endowment funding maritime archaeological education and research.

Angela Croome

Editor, IJNA

"Honor Frost’s great and incomparable achievements were almost legendary, and her energy seemed boundless."

Extended Biography

Honor was born in Cyprus in 1917; however, after her parents passed away she moved to London to live with her new ward Wilfred Evill. She fell in love with diving early on, first trying it out during a party in a garden. Honor studied art in London and Oxford, working on ballets and at the Tate Gallery. She worked as a draftsperson for several archaeological projects, initially on land excavations at Jericho and later at the Institut Français d'Archéologie in Beirut.

Honor's interest in diving quickly turned toward the remains of the past she found on the seafloor. Frédéric Dumas took her diving on the Roman shipwreck at Antheor in the 1940s, which to her lifelong research in the Mediterranean. She moved to Lebanon after working at Jericho and explored the coastal regions. One of her most important research avenue- ancient anchors- developed at this time. In 1958, she was traveling through Bodrum, Turkey, with her dive gear and happened to be there at the same time as Peter Throckmorton. The two recorded several wrecks and Peter travel to University of Pennsylvania to convince George Bass to undertake a shipwreck excavation. She joined the Cape Gelidonya excavation team. She went on to be part of the UNESCO mission to Alexandria to identify the Pharos Lighthouse, while she also directed projects in the Levant and Sicily. She may be best known for excavation of the Punic ship at Marsala, Sicily, and its careful analysis of organic artifacts. Her 1959 book Under the Mediterranean: Marine Antiquities was highly influential and she helped found the Council for Nautical Archaeology and the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, and she was a member of the Council for the Society of Nautical Research and made a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

Honor had great foresight and concern for the future of maritime archaeology. She bequeathed her and Evill's art collection to a trust designed to support the field. After her passing in 2010, the art collection was auctioned to form a considerable endowment for the Honor Frost Foundation, which extensively funds maritime archaeological education and research in the eastern Mediterranean.

For a full biography of Honor, visit the Foundation's page here and read this one by John Carswell. 

Selected Maritime Bibliography

Frost, Honor. 1970. Bronze Age Stone Anchors from the Eastern Mediterranean. Mariner's Mirror 56(4):377-394.

Frost, Honor. 1973. First Season of Excavation on the Punic Wreck in Sicily, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 2(1)33-49.

Frost, Honor. 1974. The Punic Wreck in Sicily. 1. Second Season of Excavation, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 3(1)35-42.

Frost, Honor, and Autori Vari. 1976.  Notizie Degli Scavi Di Antichità: Lilybaeum. Vol. XXX. Accademia Nazionale Dei Lincei, Rome.

Frost, Honor. 1979. Egypt and Stone Anchors: Some Recent Discoveries. Mariner's Mirror 65(2):137-161.

Frost, Honor. 2011. Don’t Forget the Dunnage: targeting plants on ships. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 40(1):194-198.


Margaret Rule


Margaret is best known for the audacious excavation and raising of Henry the VIII's flagship Mary Rose. Having worked at several terrestrial excavations, she work with local divers to locate and then excavate the shipwreck through applying the same rigorous methods from land to the underwater site. She profoundly affected the trajectory of British maritime archaeology and the broader field. The Mary Rose continues to be visited by thousands each year where is currently housed in the 2015 European Museum of the Year.

The Independent

"Resolute and full of drive and determination, Rule was fundamental to the success of the [Mary Rose] project, and oversaw the world's largest maritime excavation, one which set the benchmark for future projects."

Extended Biography

Selected Maritime Bibliography

Rule, Margaret. 1973. The Mary Rose: A Second Interim Report, 1972. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 2(2):385-388.

Rule, Margaret. 1974. Floor Mosaics in Roman Britain. London: Macmillan for the Sussex Archaeological Trust.

Rule, Margaret. 1982. The Mary Rose: The Excavation and Raising of Henry VIII's Flagship. London: Conway Maritime Press.

Rule, Margaret. 1993. A Gallo-Roman Trading Vessel from Guernsey: The Excavation and Recovery of a Third Century Shipwreck. Candie Gardens: Guernsey Museums.

  • Joan du Plat Taylor sketching a site plan at the Cape Gelidonya excavation.
  • Margaret Rule excavating at Fishbourne Roman Palace in the 1960s.
  • Honor Frost in Bodrum, Turkey, in 1958.
  • The planning table at Cape Gelidonya with George Bass, Peter Throckmorton, and Honor Frost.
  • Margaret Rule visiting the Mary Rose during conservation.

Women in Maritime Archaeology Today

Tabulating figures from the major university program graduates, it is possible to determine the number of women in the workforce over the last thirty years. East Carolina University has 229 graduates, 40% of which are women. Texas A&M University has 191 graduates, 40% of which are women. The University of Southampton nearly 350 graduates and 55% are women. 

There are no clear figures for the commercial job market after graduation; however, of university faculty positions in maritime archaeology, 37% are held by women. 


Resources for Women in the Field Today

For women in the sciences, there are important issues to be aware of. This section summarizes a few key points and links to further information. Please contact the editors if there is something missing or if you would like any of these items expanded upon.

  • A series of recent studies have shown harassment and assault to be found (among women and men) in the field sciences such as biology, anthropology, and geology, as well as archaeology. Articles in Scientific American and the New York Times explore these is popular media, while peer reviewed articles present the evidence and interpret the data.
  • Female archaeologists may also be subject to harassment online. A recent study found that up to one third of women were harassed online.
  • Women are more often judged by their appearance, rather than on the merits of their research or work.

This website is meant to foster communication and mentoring to address the inequalities in the field. The menus to the right contain resources for women seeking information on women in the sciences, harassment, and mentoring.

Professional Resources

  • The Status of Women in Archaeology. A 1988 article that crunches the numbers on women in the field and poses important questions that have guided studies of women in the field since its publication.
  • Equity Issues for Women in Archaeology. A series of 32 papers on a wide range of issues facing women in archaeology by many influential female archaeologists.

  • Women in Archaeology. A book that documents and discusses attempts to exclude women from the discipline of archaeology and the resulting androcentrism of archaeological knowledge.
  • Archaeology and Women. A volume drawing together sources on the historical and contemporary roles of women in archaeology, and links contemporary archaeological theory and practice to work on women and gender in other fields.
  • Women Divers Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame provides annual grants for women in the underwater sciences and is a great resource for the history of female divers.


Harassment Resources


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