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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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Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on Alor Island, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
These 12,000-Year-Old Fish Hooks Are the Oldest to Ever Be Discovered in a Grave
Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on Alor Island, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.
Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on Alor Island, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.

Prehistoric people who lived on Indonesia’s rugged and remote Alor Island held fishing in such high importance that even the dead were supplied with equipment for snagging a fresh catch. While digging at an archaeological site on the island’s south coast in 2014, scientists found a group of ancient fish hooks, which were buried with an adult human around 12,000 years ago. They’re the oldest fishhooks to ever be discovered in a grave, according to a new report published in the journal Antiquity.

Archaeologists from Australian National University found the partial skeleton while excavating an early rock shelter on Alor’s west coast. The bones—which appeared to belong to a female—were interred with five circular one-piece fish hooks made from sea snail shell. Also found was a perforated bivalve shell, buried beneath the skeleton’s chin. It’s unclear what purpose this artifact served, but experts did note that it had been smoothed and polished, and appeared to have once been dyed red.

Ancient fish hooks discovered in Indonesia by archaeologists from Australian National University
Rotating fish hooks found with the burial

Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on AlorIsland, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys, and Rachel Wood.

Prehistoric fish hooks found in Indonesia by archaeologists from Australian National University.
Circular rotating fish hooks found with the burial

Photograph by Sofía Samper Carro. "Fishing in life and death: Pleistocene fish-hooks from a burial context on AlorIsland, Indonesia," Antiquity, Sue O’Connor, Mahirta, Sofía C. Samper Carro, Stuart Hawkin, Shimona Kealy, Julien Louys and Rachel Wood.

Researchers used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of charcoal samples found near the burial ground. From this, they determined that the fish hooks and human remains were buried during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Alor Island, the largest island in the volcanic Alor Archipelago, is rocky and lacks a variety of plant life and protein sources. For these reasons, fish was likely an important staple food for ancient residents, and the act of fishing may have also been considered cosmologically important, archaeologists say.

The burial on Alor Island "represents the earliest-known example of a culture for whom fishing was clearly an important activity among both the living and the dead,” the study's authors wrote. Additionally, if the skeleton indeed belonged to a woman (the bones themselves haven't yet been conclusively identified), the hooks might suggest that women in ancient Alor were tasked with hook-and-line fishing, just like those in ancient Australia.

Archaeologists have identified prehistoric fishing hooks at sites around the world. They range from 23,000-year-old hooks, discovered on Japan’s Okinawa Island (the world’s oldest-known fishing implements), to slate hooks from Siberia’s late Mesolithic period (the second-oldest hooks ever found in a gravesite).

The fishing hooks discovered on Alor are circular instead of J-shaped, and resemble other ancient hooks that were once used in countries like Japan, Australia, Mexico, and Chile. Some experts have suggested that these similarities in technology were the result of migration, cultural contact, or even from fish hooks left in migrating tuna. The researchers at Australian National University argue against this theory, hypothesizing that the similarly shaped hooks are instead evidence of “convergent cultural evolution in technology” around the globe.

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Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition, Tel-Aviv University
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
3100 Years Ago, an Elite Family Stashed Their Silver Jewelry in a Beer Jug
Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition, Tel-Aviv University
Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition, Tel-Aviv University

Instead of containing traces of alcohol, a 3100-year-old beer jug discovered by archaeologists in Israel was stuffed with silver jewelry. Unearthed in 2010 at the Bronze Age settlement of Megiddo, the vessel contained several dozen ancient baubles, ranging from bracelets to beaded works, according to Science News. One of the researchers, Eran Arie, presented the findings earlier this month in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

The jewelry-bearing jug likely belonged to a high-ranking Canaanite family, who hid it in the corner of a courtyard. A bowl, and perhaps a cloth shroud, was placed over the container to conceal it. It's unclear why the family left their expensive hoard there, as it likely comprised the majority of their personal wealth, but the find does shed light on how wealthy families tried to keep their valuables safe.

A bowl concealed an Iron Age jug with its neck removed, to accommodate a hoard of precious jewelry.
A bowl concealed an Iron Age jug with its neck removed, to accommodate a hoard of precious jewelry.
Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition, Tel-Aviv University

 A 3100-year-old jewelry hoard, including earrings, beads, a ring, and silver jewelry wrapped in linen cloths.
A 3100-year-old jewelry hoard, including earrings, beads, a ring, and silver jewelry wrapped in linen cloths.
Courtesy of the Megiddo Expedition, Tel-Aviv University

The owners removed the jug's narrow neck to place the jewelry inside. The cache included 35 silver works—including earrings, rings, and a bracelet, wrapped in two linen cloths—along with carnelian and beads made from electrum, an alloy of gold and silver, which were once probably park of a necklace.

Experts haven't figured out who the jewelry's owners were, but one theory is that they were connected to the government because the courtyard and its surrounding building were once located near the city palace. Since the building appeared to have been destroyed—perhaps in a battle—it's thought that the family fled during a time of crisis, leaving their treasures to sit undetected for millennia. 

[h/t Science News]

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