16 November 2001
The scientist, who worked on an
excavation of female warriors' graves in Central
Asia, follows the footsteps of ancient tribes.
The find was stunning. More than 150 ancient
graves were strung along the border of modern
countries of Russia and Kazakhstan, filled with
skeletons of women flanked by swords, iron
daggers, arrowheads and leather quivers.
The implications weren't lost on Jeannine
Davis-Kimball, the Ventura archeologist who was
excavating the site. The expert on central Asian
nomads had studied history. She knew the story
of the Amazons, female warriors who reportedly
killed their male children, shunned traditional
women's roles and were crack shots with the bow
As tantalizing as the find was, Davis-Kimball
said the remains probably were not Amazons--they
were too far from the Black Sea. But she
believes these fighting female nomads, who lived
about 600 BC, helped fuel the Amazon stories.
"I believe we had women warriors evolve to
protect the herds when the men were gone,"
she said. "But they were not out raping and
pillaging like Genghis Khan."
Davis-Kimball has lived with nomads in Mongolia,
studied their trade routes through Afghanistan
and examined their mummified bodies in western
What she has learned has been the subject of
five documentaries, numerous articles and five
books, the newest titled "Warrior Women, An
Archeologist's Search for History's Hidden
The book was prompted by the excavations of
Sauromatian graves in southern Russia between
1992 and 1995. Other tribes of the area, such as
the Sarmatians and Scythians, also had women
warriors, along with women priests, politicians
"The women in these nomadic cultures were
incredibly strong and had a much bigger impact
politically and economically than we
realized," Davis-Kimball said.
Saw First Nomads on Stone Reliefs
It was this independence and pluck that drew her
to central Asian nomads. She saw her first
nomads carved on stone reliefs in the ruins of
Persepolis, Iran. She later sought out the real
thing on the steppes of Russia, Kazakhstan and
the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.
"I wanted to develop an understanding of
the nomadic way of life as it was lived 2,500
years ago and it was still very much the
same," she said. "These were tough
women. I was impressed with their calmness,
peacefulness and their impeccable hospitality to
Gary Marcuse, a documentary filmmaker from
Canada, recently worked with the archeologist on
a program called "Ancient Clues" for
the Discovery Channel.
"We put her on a boat and dropped her on
the shore of the Sea of Azov," the northern
arm of the Black Sea, Marcuse said. "The
purpose was to re-create the path of Jeannine's
research to show there were women warriors among
the Sauromatians. We were also following in the
footsteps of the Amazons."
Marcuse spent two weeks with Davis-Kimball,
hiking through plains and mountains in
"She is extremely good at making this stuff
interesting," he said. "We never
Suzanne Lettrick, formerly Davis-Kimball's
assistant at the Center for the Study of
Eurasian Nomads in Berkeley, recalled a 1998
trip to Mongolia where Davis-Kimball hoped to
unearth the frozen body of a nomadic priestess
rumored to be buried there. They dug for two
months but found nothing.
"We had a makeshift toilet with plastic
bags tied around four wooden posts and a hole in
the ground," said Lettrick, who now lives
in Los Angeles. "We were really out there.
Jeannine lives for that kind of stuff."
Davis-Kimball grew up among the horses and
mountains of southern Idaho before moving to
Ventura in 1963. A nurse who raised six
children, she made a midlife career change in
1983, returning to college to study art history.
"I was always interested in art history and
became interested in ancient art history,"
she said. "And that's what took me to
She began at Ventura College, then transferred
to Cal State Northridge and got her bachelor's
degree in art history. She later received a
master's and doctorate in history and archeology
In 1989, she founded and became executive
director of the Center for the Study of Eurasian
Davis-Kimball participated in a 1999 Nova
documentary called "Mysterious Mummies of
China," where she helped investigate the
origins of Caucasian mummies found in western
Time Now Given to Institute's Web Site
She found a huge petroglyph in the mountains of
China depicting a fertility ritual. It was
similar to a pottery carving she found during a
dig in Moldova. The mummies, she believes, were
nomads from southern Russia and the Ukraine who
grazed their herds in the rich pastures of
These days, Davis-Kimball spends much of her
time working on her institute's Web
site--http://csen.org--where various scholars
post papers and reviews. She also spends time
with her husband, children, nine grandchildren
and six great-grandchildren.
The silver-haired scientist, who won't divulge
her age, shows no signs of slowing down.
Asked if she believes there really were Amazons,
she pauses a moment.
"I have no reason to believe the Amazons
ever existed," she said. "But we have
reason to believe the ancient Greeks drew upon
societies they knew to come up with the Amazon