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Bertha Cody (Seneca Nation)

Native, Seneca (1907-1978)

Bertha Cody is considered the first woman Native American archaeologist and ethnologist in the United States. Since many of her family including her mother worked in the film industry in Los Angeles, Bertha tried to work in this field. Later, she  went to work as a secretary and cook for her uncle Mark Raymond Harrington, an archaeologist.  On digs, she gradually began to learn the science on the job and  though not formally trained, she became an extraordinary archaeologist, who impressed the formally trained archaeologists with whom she worked.  She was involved in some significant discoveries; of  note, she discovered a number of important Pueblo sites including the Scorpion Hill site, which she excavated completely alone, and the Corn Creek Campsite. In 1930, she discovered the skull of an ancient ground sloth next to ancient manmade tools in the famous Gypsum Cave in Nevada. This small find proved to be one of great consequence. At this point in time, the question of human migration across the Bering Strait into North America was a highly contested issue. Her discovery at Gypsum Cave challenged the prevailing  scientific opinions with hard evidence that substantiated that humans were actually on the continent even earlier than the majority of scientists believed, nearly 10,000 years earlier. From the 1930’s to the 1960’s, Bertha published several archaeological and ethnological papers in the Southwest Museum’s journal, MasterKey. To honor the legacy of this gifted archaeologist, the Society for American Archaeology (in November 2020) established the Bertha Parker Cody Award for Native American Women. This award is open to all Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women who are undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of archaeology or museum studies and will fund their professional training, internships, and research  institutions.

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