Women in Anthropology: BERTHA “BIRDIE” PARKER CODY
Bertha Parker Cody, born Bertha Yewas Parker, lived an incredibly nuanced life as an Indigenous women working in anthropology and archaeology during the early to mid 20th century.
*Her family history is (ngl) wild to say the least*
She was born in 1907 in New York to Beulah Tahamont (later Folsom) and Arthur C. Parker. Her mother was an actress that came from a family of actors. Her maternal grandmother was Margaret Dove Eye Camp and her grandfather was famous silent film actor and leader of the First Nations Abenaki tribe, Elijah Dark Cloud Tahamont.
Her father was of Seneca and Scottish-English descent, was educated as an archaeologist, and became the first president of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA).
*Now we don’t have time to unpack ALL of that so stay tuned for a future post on the life of Arthur C. Parker*
Birdie was married three times. After her first unhappy marriage to Joseph Pallan ended, she married paleontologist James E. Thurston who passed away in 1931. Then in 1936 she married actor Espera Oscar de Corti who was better known as an actor going by the name of “Iron Eyes Cody”.
*Now we REALLY don’t have time to unpack all of that so stay tuned for a future post on appropriation vs. appreciation and Indigenous visibility*
Her uncle was Mark Raymond Harrington, a curator of archaeology at the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles (now the Autry Museum of the American West) from 1931 to 1964. He hired Birdie as the camp cook, expedition secretary, and assistant archaeologist.
She assisted on various archaeological sites including Mesa house as well as the famous Gypsum Cave in Nevada. The site’s earliest human habitation was approximately 3000 BCE, and it was also at one point occupied by the now extinct Shasta ground sloth (Nothrotheriops shastensis) up until 11,000 BCE. Birdie was responsible for discovering a ground sloth skull and human tools in the cave’s room 3.
During the Gypsum Cave excavations, she also found the site of Corn Creek near Las Vegas, Nevada which contained the remains of the extinct North American camel species (Camelops hesternus). This site dates to approximately 5000 BCE.
Birdie additionally worked as an archaeological assistant in the Southwest Museum and published her own anthropological and ethnographic work on Indigenous groups in California. These works included: “Some Yurok Customs and Beliefs” and "A Maidu myth of the first death; by Bertha Parker Cody, as related by Mandy Wilson of Chico, California”.
This kind of work by an Indigenous female archaeologist was incredibly important, especially in the early 20th century. Archaeology was quickly becoming a well-respected subject within academia and research. However, It was also almost completely dominated by white men who regarded themselves as the sole intellectual authorities within the field. Many tend to forget that elite academic knowldge is not a universal truth and not the only correct way of understanding the world.
Birdie was not educated in a formal academic institution, but this does not make her any less an incredible researcher, scholar, and archaeologist.
Her life is honestly a bit unfathomable to an onlooker from the 21st century, but her story is definitely an important one to know. She was a brilliant Indigenous woman and scientist at the center of American archaeology and anthropology.
Bridie died in 1978, and over 40 years later the Society for American Archaeology, with support from the Autry Museum of the American West, has announced the Bertha Parker Cody Award for Native American Women. Long overdue and a tad bit ironic given recent SAA news (Link to post: https://idigitpodcast.tumblr.com/post/649946268870819840/check-out-some-recent-news-in-archaeology-and) but wonderful nonetheless.
It is imperative in this current moment, especially in the United States, that archaeology is accessible to Indigenous viewpoints; and the field frankly needs more minds and perspectives like Bertha Parker Cody.
“New Award Honors Bertha Parker Cody, First U.S. Native American Woman Archaeologist.” Society for American Archaeology, www.saa.org/quick-nav/saa-media-room/saa-news/2020/11/16/bertha-parker-cody-award.
“Bertha Parker Pallan.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 5 Apr. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertha_Parker_Pallan.
“What Is the Autry?” Autry Museum of the American West, 11 Nov. 2020, theautry.org/about-us.
Bruchac, Margaret. "First Female Native Archaeologist." (2005).
Bruchac, Margaret M.. Savage Kin: Indigenous Informants and American Anthropologists. United States, University of Arizona Press, 2018.
“Bertha Parker Pallan Cody (1907-1978).” Smithsonian Institution, www.si.edu/es/object/bertha-parker-pallan-cody-1907-1978:siris_arc_306365.
“Bertha ‘Birdie’ Parker: TrowelBlazers.” TrowelBlazers Bertha BirdieParker Comments, trowelblazers.com/bertha-birdie-parker-also-known-as/.
About the podcast: The I Dig It Podcast was created by Alyssa and Michaela in March of 2020. Our goal for this podcast was to provide archaeology enthusiasts with insight into the student perspective of navigating the world of academia and the job market for archaeology and anthropology. Guests on the podcast include people from all different parts of their career, including highschool, undergrad, grad school, post doc, and early career!
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Sel, do you know when “Home” would make the most sense?
In the kitchen. With friends. Doesn’t matter.
Tina, oh my GOD kjhfkjhkfshjkd
I can fucking see it.
Those two dancing around the kitchen, holding each other close and gazing lovingly into the eyes of one another.
I can see Eddie smiling softly at Buck who is mouthing every words of the song, because of course he does.
I can see Buck getting flustered when Eddie holds his gaze and sings with a low voice " Laugh until we think we'll die
Barefoot on a summer night
Never could be sweeter than with you" and his Texan accent slips out, which does things to Buck okay?
And I can see them resting their forehead agains each other, closing their eyes as the song comes to an end and just basking into the moment. There is no sudden realization, no big confession, just a feeling of belonging and contentment.
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