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Eugène L. Pirou // Public Domain
Eugène L. Pirou // Public Domain

The Adventurous Life of Jane Dieulafoy, Pioneering Archaeologist, Artist, and Feminist

Eugène L. Pirou // Public Domain
Eugène L. Pirou // Public Domain

In 1851, Jane Magri was born to a French family that already had four daughters. Her father died shortly after her birth. She was educated at a convent, where she learned several languages and excelled in art. Jane had no interest in becoming a housewife, which is what was expected at the time. She seemed to have no interest in marriage, either, until she met Marcel Dieulafoy, a man who matched Jane in both education and thirst for adventure. They agreed to a marriage of equals, in which neither ruled over the other. He was a civil engineer employed by a railroad when he and Jane married in 1870.

That same year, the Franco-Prussian War broke out. Marcel joined the French Army as an engineering officer—and rather than stay at home, Jane dressed in a soldier's uniform and went with him. She became a sharpshooter, accompanying Marcel on every mission, and was never discovered to be a woman during her self-imposed tour of duty.

After the war, Marcel returned to a job with the railroad, but he and Jane wanted more adventure than France could offer. They took trips to Egypt, Morocco, and Persia (now Iran) and developed an interest in history, antiquity, and archaeology. In 1879, Marcel quit the railroad to prepare for a life of exploration. Both Dieulafoys spent 1880 in preparation for an expedition to Susa, an archaeological dig in Persia that proved to be the site of a 6000-year-old regional capital.

Emila Bayard via Adams 2010 // Public Domain

Jane Dieulafoy called herself Marcel’s collaborateur. She used the masculine form of the word deliberately, saying “a [female] collaborator would have been an annoyance.” And once again, Jane donned men's clothing for the Dieulafoys' 14 months in Persia, during which they traveled 6000 kilometers, mostly on horseback. It was a practical decision: The presence of a woman on such an expedition would be both culturally insensitive and dangerous. Both carried weapons, and had several occasions to use them. 

During their travels, both Dieulafoys suffered from mysterious fevers, and Jane had to shave her head at one point due to lice. When they met the Shah, he at first refused to believe Jane was a woman.

After they reached Susa, weather interfered with the excavation, and they soon had to return to Paris. Jane and Marcel were enchanted by Persia, and vowed to return.   

Jane Dieulafoy via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Jane took photographs of everything she saw in Persia, drew pictures, and kept a journal. Her role as documentarian on the expedition enabled her to turn her experiences into a book, which became a best seller in France.

The Dieulafoys' second expedition to Susa in 1885 yielded better results. Jane was by then a trained archaeologist in her own right, and led teams of hundreds of male workers at the dig. They sent 400 crates of artifacts back to France, the most famous being the Lion Frieze from the palace of Darius the Great. It can be seen at the Louvre.

dynamosquito via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Jane worked as hard as any laborer—and she held her own against bandits as well. Once, she was unloading a raft by herself and was accosted by eight men. She held them off at gunpoint for half an hour until the rest of her crew arrived. She reportedly told the bandits, "I have 14 balls at your disposal. Come back with six more friends." The incident was later made into a famous lithograph

via Cohen and Joukowsky 2006 // public domain

Back in Paris, Jane was awarded the cross of the Légion D’Honneur in 1886. She was also given official government permission to dress in men’s clothing, which was otherwise illegal. She wore men’s attire and short hair for the rest of her life, and considered it a great time saver.


Changing global politics forbade the Dieulafoys from returning to Persia after their second expedition. Instead, they traveled to Spain, Portugal, and other areas together. Jane wrote many books and articles about her adventures in Persia and elsewhere, and two novels. However, she was barred from winning any literary awards because she was a woman. In response, she and other authors founded the Prix Femina, an award for women authors, in 1904.  

Jane and Marcel-Auguste Dieulafoy via Wikimedia Commons // public domain

When World War I broke out, 70-year-old Marcel volunteered for a post in Morocco, and Jane, of course, accompanied him. At 65 years old, Jane contracted dysentery and was forced to return to Paris to recuperate. Sadly, she did not, and died from the illness in 1916. Marcel followed her in death in 1920.

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Penn Vet Working Dog Center
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
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This Just In
Flights Grounded After World War II Bomb Discovered Near London City Airport
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images
Dan Kitwood, Getty Images

London City Airport grounded all flights on the night of February 11, after a World War II bomb was found in the neighboring River Thames, The Guardian reports.

The half-ton bomb was revealed Sunday morning by development work taking place at the King George V Dock. Following its discovery, police set up a 702-foot exclusion zone around the area, closing local roads and shutting down the London City Airport until further notice. According to the BBC, 261 trips were scheduled to fly in and out of London City Airport on Monday. Some flights are being rerouted to nearby airports, while others have been canceled altogether.

The airport will reopen as soon as the explosive device has been safely removed. For that to happen, the Met police must first wait for the river's tide to recede. Then, once the bomb is exposed, they can dislodge it from the riverbed and tow it to a controlled explosion site.

The docks of London’s East End were some of the most heavily bombed points in the city during World War II. Germany’s Blitz lasted 76 nights, and as the latest unexpected discovery shows, bombs that never detonated are still being cleaned up from parks and rivers more than 75 years later.

[h/t The Guardian]

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