Exploring the Past: Salima Ikram and Justine Benanty on BBC World Service

Justine Benanty is a qualified pilot but as a maritime archaeologist her time is spent underwater rather than in the sky. At her first dig in Israel she realised that she hated wheelbarrows and got sunburnt too easily to work in the desert, so investigating shipwrecks became her focus. Her project for the last five years has been to tell the stories of the slaves, who were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, through archaeology. It is a science which needs an image overhaul because, she says “there’s nothing cooler than finding […] a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea that no-one has seen for hundreds of years”. She is a co-founder of the ArchaeoVenturers project, a collection of videos and blogs about issues in history and science, which also celebrates women’s work in these fields.

Salima Ikram was born in Pakistan and got hooked on ancient Egyptian artefacts through the pictures in a childhood book. Her fate as an Egyptologist was sealed when she came face-to-face, aged nine, with mesmerising statues in the Cairo museum; she decided then that finding out more about them would be her life’s work. “Archaeologists are people who never grew up” she says. When not lecturing at the American University in Cairo, Salima will be somewhere dry, dusty, and dirty, recording ancient inscriptions or X-raying mummies – human and animal. Her role models in archaeology were women who had been working since the 1940s, but, she says sexism is still a problem and more so in the west than the east. The important thing, she says, “is to do what you want to do and do it very well.”

(Photo: Salima Ikram and Justine Benanty. Credit: Salima Ikram – J. Rowland)

Check out the link for downloading the podcast or listen directly on your computer HERE!

  1. Justine,

    I heard the podcast and was very inspired (or shall i be re-inspired) from the discussion between you and Salima about dreaming, academia, and giving voice to the past. I was especially happy to hear you speak up about sexual harassment and gendar bias in academia and its work. I myself was –and still am in my heart– a passionate researcher in philosophy. I am now 27, and back to serving tables because hey, what’s a young girl to do? How can I get in touch about working with the Slave Wrecks project? Can I discover the past with you all?

  2. My later night road-trip turned out to have a silver lining when I happened to listen to this program – and then found your sight. I plan to share this show and your blog with my youngest daughter (age 7) who’s totally in an exploration/history phase – which I hope she never grows out of. Thank you for this resource!

  3. Caught the broadcast in LA late last night. Loved hearing about your work. However, I couldn’t quite believe my ears when Salima started blaming sexual harassment and men not respecting your work on you for not zipping up your wetsuit enough. WTF?

  4. I caught the BBC interview extremely early this morning. It was about 3 AM Central Time in Minnesota. I couldn’t help thinking about your discussion about why more women are getting degrees in archaeology, but not doing anything with them. (Please don’t take this the wrong way, I’m only stating what I believe are the facts.) I believe many of these women wind up getting married and having children. This can complicate things in archaeology. Do you leave the rest of the family behind to go halfway around the world for a dig/dive? Do you uproot everybody and move there for what could be several months? These can be hard decisions for anyone. Women especially can have an issue because while they’re pregnant, their pregnancy and concern for the health of both the mother and baby may prevent them from going out in the field, especially for diving. I’m surprised that wasn’t brought up during the interview.

  5. Good on Salim and Justine for their good work. I too felt that Justine was attacked in a wholly unprofessional and unwarranted way for her personal choices regarding her apparel. It’s up to her, not to ANYONE else, to decide how to present herself. PERIOD.

  6. Great interview, Justine! I really enjoyed learning more about your work and passions, I especially enjoyed hearing about the different equipment you use on dives. Your passion for the field was really highlighted and hopefully inspired others to continue to pursue academic work.

    As others have mentioned in the posts, I was really surprised by Salima’s comments regarding your apparel. Not only were her comments unprofessional and harsh, but they furthered the cycle of victim-blaming. In an interview show that is focused on giving women voice, she was quick to shut you down. I think the point you wanted to highlight prior to being cut off, is that women don’t have to be masculine to be taken seriously: women can be feminine, and sexy, and can and should be taken seriously as academics and adventurers. There is no reason a woman couldn’t have her cake and eat it too!


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