Dorothy Hodgkin (then Crowfoot) ca. 1920s, as she was when she excavated at Jerash in her late teens (with thanks to the Crowfoot family for providing this image - All Rights Reserved)
For awesomeness it is hard to beat Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910 – 1994). She won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, the first British woman scientist to do so, for her X-ray crystallographic studies of penicillin and vitamin B12. This October sees the 50th anniversary of the announcement of her prize, and she still remains the only woman in Britain to win a science Nobel.
But, I hear you say, why are we talking about her here? Dorothy Crowfoot came from a distinguished family of archaeologists, many of them women. Her father John Winter Crowfoot became Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem in 1926 (see his obituary by Kathleen Kenyon — pdf). Her mother, Grace ‘Molly’ Crowfoot, and her sisters Joan Crowfoot Payne and Elisabeth Crowfoot have already been acknowledged as part of the Trowelblazers network. Her youngest sister Diana Crowfoot Rowley deserves a place too, having worked for decades with her husband Graham Rowley on the archaeology, anthropology and geology of the Canadian Arctic. Dorothy’s niece Susan Rowley is a curator at the Museum of Anthropology in British Columbia, who has carried out her own archaeological fieldwork in the Arctic. Quite a Trowelblazers pedigree!
A Passion for Patterns
Dorothy might well have become an archaeologist too, had she not been ‘captured’ by chemistry and crystals at the age of ten. She certainly shared her parents’ passion for the subject. Between passing the Oxford entrance examination in March 1928 and taking up her place at Somerville College to read Chemistry in October that year, she joined them on a new excavation of the ancient city of Jerash, in what is now Jordan. She took on the role of recording the patterns of the stunning mosaic pavements that emerged as the soil was brushed away from the remains of more than a dozen 5th and 6th century Byzantine churches.
As her later career as an X-ray crystallographer showed, Dorothy never gave up a task half way through. She took her partly completed illustrations back to Oxford, and spent more than a year finishing them. Drawing the pattern precisely to scale, she represented each 1cm tessera, or tile, as a 1mm dot of paint. She sent the completed illustrations to Yale University, which had co-sponsored the dig, and there they remain to this day as part of the official record of the excavation….READ MORE
By Georgina Ferry (@geoferry)
Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life by Georgina Ferry is reissued by Bloomsbury Publishing on 11 September 2014.
For more on Dorothy Hodgkin, see her beautiful mosaic paintings and find out about the huge number of women she worked with (in archaeology and crystallography) go to trowelblazers.com