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An Interview with Scientists of the Ancient World

Ashley Hall, Paleontologist

Sophie Cushman, Archaeologist

When Inspiring Girls USA learned that one of their young ambassadors had a love for dinosaurs, they did everything they could to connect her with women in relevant scientific fields. Ashley Hall, a paleontologist and museum educator at the Museum of the Rockies, has participated in dinosaur excavations in Utah and researched sauropod claws and the evolution of birds from deposits at the La Brea Tar Pits. Sophie Cushman, a Classical Archaeologist and PhD candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, has excavated ancient sites in Greece and researched the use of chamber tombs in northeastern Peloponnese during the Late Bronze Age. Both women were kind enough to dedicate their time to Inspiring Girls, speaking directly with young girls to demonstrate everything that they are capable of accomplishing.

Like our young ambassador, Ashley also loved dinosaurs from an early age. She was fascinated by everything about science and nature, and she was always trying to learn more. “I remember specifically having a pink Parasaurolophus toy, and that’s my favorite dinosaur. I loved it so much. My parents were also hugely influential and supportive in taking me to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois. They have an amazing dinosaur collection, huge fossil collection, gems and minerals. I grew up as a little girl, just adoring natural history. I was really interested in paleontology, marine biology, Egyptology, and anthropology.”

For Sophie, the path to becoming an archaeologist was somewhat different. “I didn't know that I wanted to be an archaeologist until I was in college. When I was growing up, I was really interested in history and the ancient Greek myths and gods. In high school, I started taking Latin, which is the language that they spoke and wrote in ancient Rome. During college, I became more interested in the ancient world. Eventually, when I was trying to decide what to major in and what to do after college, archaeology seemed like the perfect combination of all of my interests.”

While Sophie decided on her career path later on, she encourages anyone interested in the scientific study of the ancient world to follow their love for the field. “I’m so excited that you all have this passion for either paleontology or archaeology from a young age,” Sophie said to the young girls in our audience, “because it’s definitely great to be excited about something.”

However, both Ashley and Sophie recognize that not everyone is familiar with what careers in archaeology or paleontology entail. “Paleontology is the study of ancient life, so ancient plants, ancient animals, dinosaurs, ancient mammals, bacteria, the earliest forms of life on Earth, and the most recent forms of life on Earth,” Ashley explained. “Anthropology is all about people and the evolution of people on Earth.”

“Archeology is technically a subfield of anthropology. It’s a type of anthropology, because it’s the study of ancient cultures and civilizations,” Sophie added. “But within archaeology, there are many even further subfields. So once you figure out what you’re interested in, you can specialize in that within the broad general category of archaeology. You could be a bioarchaeologist, someone who studies human remains, or a zooarchaeologist, someone who studies animal remains. You could even be someone who specializes in pottery or architecture.”

“People have a very preconceived notion about what it looks like to be an archaeologist from Hollywood movies, TV, and video games. You might have seen some of the Indiana Jones or National Treasure movies where everything is very exciting, fast paced, and you’re running around. And to some extent, this is true. When you’re working on an excavation, and you find something important, like a sculpture or a burial, you often have to move really fast to get it out of the ground and somewhere safe.

“But at the same time, archaeology is a science. When you’re digging you have to be very careful. There are also a lot of less action-packed tasks, like counting and sorting pottery, lots and lots of paperwork, and a lot of moving dirt from one spot to another with shovels or wheelbarrows. Because archaeology is a science, but it is also a destructive science. Once you dig something up, you can never get it back into the exact spot that you found it, so we have to make sure to keep very good records of all of that.”

Ashley’s experience as a paleontologist is similar. “Most of my year is spent as an educator. My job at the Museum of the Rockies is to take dinosaurs and dinosaur bones to schools and community festivals. Then in the summertime, we go out in the field with students on paleontology digs. My job is mainly as a teacher and then part-time in the field, going out, having fun, and digging up dinosaurs.”

Although their jobs are not always filled with action, Ashley and Sophie have much to excite them. Sophie, who worked on a site at Azoria, an ancient Greek city, discovered that the city remained “almost perfectly intact” after it was destroyed by a fire over 3,000 years ago. “It was a big city. They had houses, public buildings like temples, and a public dining hall, where all the members of the community could come in and have these big elaborate feasts. It was super exciting to be able to go in, dig this site, and see the remains of the meals that people were cooking on the day that their city was unfortunately destroyed by this fire.”

While people might expect the field to be the most interesting aspect of her job, Ashley has discovered a love for paleontology collections. “We have these big cabinets full of fossils, and my job was to go through, take out a bone, and work on identifying it. What did this fossil come from? What is it? Is it very common, or is it something really rare that we’ve never seen before?”

Archaeology and paleontology are fields that constantly challenge scientists to uncover more about the exciting mysteries behind life and the ancient world. Whether by educating students in museums or serving as role models for Inspiring Girls USA, both Ashley Hall and Sophie Cushman have inspired new generations of scientists. Their unique career paths encourage young girls to be confident, pursue their dreams, and defy gender stereotypes in science.

About the Author:

Kaitlyn Donato is pursuing her A.B. at Princeton University. In her sophomore year of high school, Kaitlyn recognized that there were too few magazines focused on writing for and by young women and decided to create The Alcott Youth Magazine. With the magazine, she hopes to publish inspirational writing for all to enjoy.

Kaitlyn would like to thank Erin Brown and all other team members from Inspiring Girls USA for making this interview possible. Inspiring Girls USA, an organization dedicated to fostering the ambitions of young girls by connecting them with successful women role models, aims to show girls that they can break down gender barriers and achieve their highest aspirations. You can learn more about their organization at

Kaitlyn would also like to show her gratitude for the assistance she received from everyone at Books and Bridges, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that coordinates with elementary school teachers to read stories to younger students about women in leadership roles. Books and Bridges believes that discussing female leaders is important for acknowledging women in history and furthering confidence in young girls. To learn more about the organization, please visit

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