Archaeologist of the Month: Hannah Marie Wormington

Hannah Marie Wormington, known as “The Queen,” was a pioneer of North American archaeology and one of the first woman archaeologists in North America. Wormington was born in Denver, Colorado and stayed there to achieve her degree in anthropology from the University of Denver in 1935. After receiving her degree, she was hired to be an assistant in archaeology for the then Colorado Museum of Natural History (it was later changed to be the Denver Museum of Natural History).

She initially began graduate studies in anthropology in 1937, but because of the Great Depression and travel restrictions from World War 2 she had to wait to finish her graduate degree until1950. She defended her doctoral thesis 4 years later and was rewarded for her hard work with the first PhD in archaeology given to a woman from Radcliffe (Harvard) College. Radcliffe College was historically the women’s sector of the modern-day Harvard University. They were such separated programs that Wormington had to sit outside for many of her classes as some male professors refused to allow ladies in the classroom (NY Times). Despite this, she prevailed and became one of the most prominent women in North American archaeology.

In her time the field of archaeology was completely male dominated. Women archaeologists were very rare, but Wormington was determined to make the best of the hand that was dealt to her. When she went to do research she brought majority female teams and gave these young women an opportunity to hone their craft under her tutelage as well as be a part of “Marie’s world” (Nash).  Wormington taught multiple proteges as a part of her life's work to make archaeology more accessible to the public. She mentored the precocious Cynthia Irwin-Williams, for example, who ended up making a name for herself as well.

Wormington was a prolific writer, writing dozens of peer-reviewed scholarly articles and essays as well as multiple textbooks. Her most well-known publication is the textbook Ancient Man in North America (1939) which was first published when she was just 24 and was used as the standard textbook for that field for almost 4 decades. She also published Prehistoric Indians of
the Southwest (1947) which was also used as a prominent textbook in that field.

Wormington worked at the Colorado Museum of Natural History for many years in her capacity as a curator. She created many exhibitions that were open for the public to learn more about the ancient past of the North American West. This was where she began to popularize North American archaeology. Later, she went on to teach at multiple different universities as well as writing 6 more books (Varnell).

Wormington did very important work on excavating rockshelters in the 1930s-40s to try to document the prehistories of the peoples from eastern Utah and western Colorado. At that time, North American archaeology was not a popular thing to do as most people weren’t interested in the prehistories of the Indigenous peoples of the area. Her work not only helped her and others to discover how bison were handled and killed, but it also popularized North American archaeology (Fagan 236).

Hannah Marie Wormington was an audacious person, someone who wasn’t afraid to take risks and to stand up to the many challenges in her field. At a time where North American archaeology wasn’t very popular, she ignited the flame of interest in the subject as well as being a powerful role model for women archaeologists across the country.


The Associated Press. “Hannah Marie Wormington, 79; Female Pioneer in Archeology.” The New York Times, 2 June 1994,

Fagan, Brian, and Stephen Nash. “Hannah Marie Wormington & Cynthia Irwin-Williams.” Great Archaeologists, Thames & Hudson, S.l., NY, 2014, pp. 233–237.

Nash, Stephen. Hannah Marie Wormington: Woman, Myth, Legend.

Varnell, Jeanne. “H. Marie Wormington-Volk, Phd.” Colorado Women's Hall of Fame, 27 Nov. 2020,

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Page last modified December 6, 2022