Anna O. Shepard, The Pioneering Woman behind 'Ceramics for Archaeologists'

By Carlotta Gardner, Associate Editor for Archaeological Ceramics

When Carmen Ting, SAS Bulletin Editor, asked the associate editors to contribute to a special issue celebrating women for International Women’s Day I decided I wanted to profile an influential, early female petrographer. It did not take me long to realise this should be Anna Shepard! 

There is little doubt that Anna Shepard contributed significantly to the development of ceramic analysis and the way we utilise archaeological ceramics to investigate questions about society and culture in archaeology. Anna clearly had a thirst for knowledge and trained in many disciplines, her focus though, was firmly in anthropology and geology. This unusual combination led Anna to use a range of scientific techniques – many applications of which, were new to the field or archaeology – to investigate pottery from the American Southwest and Mesoamerica in order to answer archaeologically informed questions. 

Figure 1: Anna Shepard at her microscope ©President and Fellows of Harvard College, 58-34-20/35949.


Anna was shy, according to one profile, but did not appear to hold back when voicing her opinion on matters that were important to her. This is evident in the prologue of her book ‘Ceramics for the Archaeologist’ and in some of her published papers on methodology and relationships between analyst and archaeologist. The results of her innovative studies were often disagreed upon by archaeologists of the time and the lack of integration of scientific data into archaeological results and publications (often added as appendices to volumes… which still sounds familiar) was a source of great frustration to her. Sadly, it appears that her frustration led to her quitting the field. 


Anna was a pioneer. An inquisitive, intelligent, and resourceful woman who had great influence on the world of archaeological ceramic analysis. If she were alive today, I hope she would be happy with the way the field is moving – with an ever-growing number of researchers developing and applying analytical methods and theoretical models to answer socially driven questions. 


You can read more details of Anna’s life in the following:


Bishop, R.L. & Lange, F.W. (eds) 1991. The ceramic legacy of Anna O. Shepard. University Press of Colorado.


(And review of the above book: Whitbread, I.K. Review: The ceramic legacy of Anna O. Shepard. Society for American Archaeology, 58.2: 378-379)


Morris, E.A. 1974. Anna O. Shepard, 1903-1973. American Antiquity, 39.4: 448-451