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Digging Deeper: An Archaeological Journey

This text is based on a talk I gave at the "Open Stage: Women’s Day" event that took place exactly two years ago at commonroom in Vienna.


"My name is Alexandra Dolea, I am an archaeologist and a researcher. I've thought a lot about what to discuss this evening, given the importance of addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. How can a female archaeologist and researcher thrive in a world plagued by bias, stereotypes, and discrimination? If you expect a solution or a great story, this is not the case. However, what I will share tonight is the story in which I discovered why I chose to discover. Namely, why I chose to become an archaeologist. It is the first time that I share this story publicly so here we go.

The first time I went to an excavation was in 2006; therefore, I have been doing fieldwork for quite a while. The feeling of uncovering things that were buried for hundreds and thousands of years overwhelmed me and gave me such a great satisfaction, that I knew since my first excavation campaign that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This feeling was the engine that motivated me to fight for my place in archaeology regardless the various restraints I have been facing meanwhile. Please understand that my case is not an exception, every woman archaeologist I have met has faced harassment, discrimination, inequity, etc. Things get better, but they are far from good.

Back to my story. Since 2006, I have discovered my love for archaeology and I have been excavating and publishing ever since. During this time I was told that men are better suited than women for the fieldwork. When I was first able to form an excavation team, it was in great majority made of women and it remained like this. However, there was place for improvement, so I brought even more women to my team. Needless to say, that the teamwork was remarkable, and the results were exceptional. And I have learned so much from this. I have learned how to listen, how to be patient and caring. How to take decisions and responsibility. What I didn’t learn was how to take care of myself and that I was going to break at a point. Which I did and that was no fun. It took me approximately a year to accept that I need help. It also took me a while to write my first email to a psychotherapist and this is what I wrote: “Dear Dr. [___], My name is Alexandra Dolea, I am working in the [___] and I am an archaeologist. I am in Vienna since about 3 years and starting last autumn I started to realize I might have to deal with some work issues. I come from a different cultural background where admitting you need help means already a failure, so I had to fight with myself to find the courage to write this email. I hope this already means one first good step and I really hope you will find the time to meet and discuss. While looking on the themes for individual consultations I think my issues deal with managing stress, burnout prevention, rediscovering my own resources/sources of strength, dealing with conflicts, emotional problems and difficult decisions. Please let me know if there is any other detail you might need. All the best wishes, Alexandra Dolea”

I have sent this on the 28th of March 2019. Early April I started therapy. It was very useful, but not enough. My problems were emotionally connected to my childhood; therefore, I was advised to find a therapist in my mother tongue. In 2020, I started weekly online therapy in my native language and that lasted for 2 years. Besides working with my past self, I had to manage myself through a pandemic, my job contract came to an end and all my project, fellowship, and job applications were rejected. I had to accept myself as jobless at 35 and to continue to find my motivation. I have to admit I did not always find it.

One day during therapy, we were discussing about self-limitations. For those who are not familiar with this concept, self-limitations are self-imposed restrictions, tasks or situations that one deliberately created or accepts for oneself. In my opinion, self-limitations are harmful, and they are based on unsolved trauma. Going back to the therapy session, I was mentioning the fact that I am a clumsy person and that I always count the stairs so I avoid falling. Moreover, that I am so clumsy that I manage to twist my ankles even on a flat surface. And how funny it is that on the excavations this barely happened in over 15 years. And I started laughing at my weird self. That moment my therapist asked me if I was ever told when I was small that I am clumsy and if I was ever made fun of. And that triggered a flood of memories I did not actively remembered. Then my therapist pointed out that it seems quite unlikely that I would have so few incidents on an archaeological dig, given the presence of trenches, pits, and many other possibilities for accidents compared to a flat surface. Long story short, choosing archaeology and not being “clumsy” on excavations indicated that I have found my safe space that I associated with being myself without feeling judged. I just didn’t realize this until that moment.

This was the reason for all my motivation to resist in this field no matter what. Archaeology was my non-conscious therapy from the moment I discovered it. Through the actual digging, I did not only uncover past objects, contexts and situations, but I also discovered my place and myself. For the first time I was actively aware of my needs and I started to take care of myself. I became more tolerant and supportive. I did not feel ashamed anymore of who I am. And I found support not only in myself, but also around. It was like a veil falling all around me when I started to talk freely about my struggles. Yes, inequality, bias, stereotypes, discrimination are still realities of our world. But, for me, one of the biggest fights was the one with myself. I was in continuous pain and I genuinely thought I do not deserve anything good. I was told numerous times that a woman archaeologist and researcher would never find a partner who will accept her lifestyle. I was told I must choose between private life and career. That I must act manly so I can be taken in consideration. That I am more of a man than a woman, that I am hysterical, that I need a man, that I am on my period, whenever I asked to be listened. I do not need any of these to be listened. I need first to listen to myself and to be kind with myself. Be kind with yourself and with the ones around you. Break the vicious circle of pain and create instead of destroying. Support instead of attacking. Communicate instead of building revenge. And most important, listen to your guts.

Thank you very much for your time!"

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