I am ashamed to admit that Jeannine Davis-Kimball’s Warrior Women–An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines sat on my shelf unread for months.* I looked at it early on in the research stage. I decided I wanted to own a copy so I could scribble in the margins. (As opposed to scribbling in the Margins.) And once I owned it, there it sat.
A couple of weeks ago I was writing about the discovery of what appeared to be ancient women warriors in burial mounds at Pokrovka, on the Russia-Kazakstan border. I was having trouble keeping Scythians, Sakas, Samartians, and Sauromatians, straight in time and place.** The source I was using had fabulous pictures but was confusing on the details. The reputable internet sources were just as bad. In desperation, I pulled two books off my shelf hoping for a solid place to stand: my well-thumbed copy of Adrienne Mayor’s The Amazons*** and Davis-Kimball’s Warrior-Women. I opened Warrior Women first, and hit the jackpot. Not only does Davis-Kimball have a neat little sidebar on the chronology of the four ancient S-cultures mentioned above, she was one of the lead archaeologists on the Pokrovka excavations. Problem solved. And imagination engaged.
Davis-Kimball’s Warrior Women is not a scholarly report on an archaeological dig, though a quick glance at the bibliography makes it clear that she has written plenty of them. Instead it is the story of an intellectual quest, complete with archaeological adventures, difficulties with travel arrangements, political stand-offs, and thrilling discoveries. The style is engaging but never dumbed down. She asks questions about not only her own finds, but existing interpretations of earlier finds. I will admit to some discomfort with the final chapters of the book, where she wanders off the Eurasian steppes that are her area of expertise and into the Celtic world. At that point she makes some speculative leaps without a net that left me a little dizzy.
Warrior Women would have made the nerdy nine-year-old me who fell in love with C.W. Ceram’s Gods, Graves and Scholars very happy. For that matter, it made nerdy fifty-nine-year-old me pretty dang happy, too.
* This is not actually unusual. I acquire books at a much faster rate than I read them, which means that some books have sat unread on my shelves for YEARS. But not books titled Warrior Women when I am writing a book with the working title of Women Warriors. *headsmack*
**Can you blame me?
***Which I’ve neglected to review here. Short version: it’s really good.