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Thread: From Paleolithic to Neolithic -- Gender role changes and other interesting facts

  1. #1 From Paleolithic to Neolithic -- Gender role changes and other interesting facts 
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    I enjoy reading about archaeology, and interesting new discoveries. Thought this was a really cool website, and what's particularly interesting to note, is the shift from ''gender equality,'' to more defined roles, between men and women...from the Paleolithic to Neolithic period. In all I've read, it's just always struck me as curious as to how and why that changed. From Paleolithic to Neolithic Revolution


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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    no gender divisions ? surely even present-day hunter-gatherers have some division of labour based on gender ?
    maybe a change in gender divisions, but no gender divisions ? where's the evidence for what appears to be a rather sweeping statement ?


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    Our knowledge of Paleolithic behaviour is not complete, and most likely never will be (unless we invent time travel and see how we lived in 25,000 BCE or something..)

    Saying that we were socially equal in Paleolithic times is a loose inference. It's not like saying Cro-Magnons used throwing spears whilst Neanderthals used stick daggers to kill animals. It is possible that once we became behaviourally modern, our social structures became more complex. Perhaps we were in that era mini-theocracies, in that the shamans/priests ruled based on what they thought the spirits intended or some such, who knows? Maybe they had structures in which rival males who had proven their worth to the tribe/band fought and whoever was left standing and alive became ruler. We cannot say for certain. Whilst social structures from homo erectus all the way through to pre-behaviourally modern humans was seemingly static (,i.e. someway ahead of the australopithecines/current great apes, but short of how we live now), I guess it's inherent to this branch of science.
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    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    You both bring up excellent points. I think what is important to note, is that the research for the Paleolithic period, shows that there was equality, without defining it as such. It seemed like a very pure way of viewing humanity, during that timeframe. Women and men...collectively working together...doing what needed to be done, TOGETHER. Men and women are different, but are equal in personhood, something that the Paleolithic period seemed to recognize, without making a fuss about it. This is only one website, but I've done a lot of reading on this topic in general, and here is a more in depth look at gender roles during the Paleolithic period. (see link below) I think the bigger message to glean from the collective studies, is that together, both men and women contributed equally to the success of their societies. And their roles were split at times, and other times, they were not...http://www.paramuspost.com/article.p...70517211038765
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  6. #5  
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marnixR View Post
    no gender divisions ? surely even present-day hunter-gatherers have some division of labour based on gender ?feel
    maybe a change in gender divisions, but no gender divisions ? where's the evidence for what appears to be a rather sweeping statement ?
    I posted below the part I think you're referring to...there were some gender divisions no doubt (I've read about them, and I post a link above to that effect), but perhaps the main point is that both genders were committed to the goal of finding food...it wasn't seen as 'the man's job' over the 'woman's job,' as is a common misconception about that timeframe. I think that could have been elaborated a bit further, but I'm assuming that is what is meant.
    This style of living is called Paleolithic. Its characteristics are:1) limited population group2) no permanent settlements3) social equalitya. no gender divisions: men and women both committed to search for foodb. no separation of people according to occupation or trade. No hierarchies or social classes as we know of them today.
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    From what i've read, the palaeolithic hunter gatherer societies were thought to be essentially matriarchal.
    Recent investigations into extant hunter gatherer societies shows clear male-female roles and expectations.
    Equality doesn't seem to play into any of the known studies.
    Alternately: When the romans faced the germans, the romans were amazed to see german women right there in the front lines of the battle formations, and there is some speculation that there was an equality in that society which included property and marriage and divorce.

    Everything I've read was obviously seen through biased eyes, and told through current cultural mores.
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    there is some speculation that there was an equality in that society which included property and marriage and divorce.
    There's also speculation that Milton's Paradise Lost, despite being an apparent Biblical epic, was really about the former "paradise" of Celtic laws which allowed marriage and divorce quite readily and on a more or less equal basis.
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    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    @ sculptor: you make a very interesting point. Much of this is far from an exact science, and how much bias does play into the "evidence" that we review? I've reviewed reputable sources that would have one believe that the roles were shared between men and women of the Paleolithic period, and so the assumption then becomes ...there must have been gender equality. A leap? Bias? Then, you have indicated that your research revealed something a bit different. It definitely begs the question as to if there is a certain amount of bias in this research? That is disheartening, if so.
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    @ sculptor: you make a very interesting point. Much of this is far from an exact science, and how much bias does play into the "evidence" that we review? I've reviewed reputable sources that would have one believe that the roles were shared between men and women of the Paleolithic period, and so the assumption then becomes ...there must have been gender equality. A leap? Bias? Then, you have indicated that your research revealed something a bit different. It definitely begs the question as to if there is a certain amount of bias in this research? That is disheartening, if so.
    Yes, the problem is we don't really know that much, so there seems to be a lot of speculation. Myself, I think it is a mistake to apply modern terms to such a different situation. There may or may not have been "gender equality", in that both men and women had to forage for food just in order to stay alive. After all, among most animals that is almost a full-time occupation - for both sexes, obviously. But I'll bet "rape" was rife, for example, not to mention a lot of "Were-you-lookin'-at-my-bird?" violence among the men. Gender equality? Maybe; but not as we know it, Jim.

    No doubt, increasing specialisation of roles would have occurred as the use of language, tools and knowledge progressed and as mankind got more efficient at providing enough food, freeing time up for other things. But is it right to see specialisation of roles as the end of "gender equality"? Seems rather a tendentious way of looking at things, to me.

    In some of the write-ups one gets a faint sense that people with a political axe to grind may be wanting to project something of a golden age myth about the Palaeolithic. Personally, I'm aways very sceptical about golden age myths.
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    But I'll bet "rape" was rife, for example, not to mention a lot of "Were-you-lookin'-at-my-bird?" violence among the men. Gender equality? Maybe; but not as we know it, Jim.
    I'm not so sure. The topic of male desirability/ marriageability came up in a conversation during one of Dr Alice Roberts's documentary series, Origins of Us I think, but don't bet your house on it. She was talking to some hunter-gatherer women (somewhere in Africa) and she asked about how they chose their husbands.

    They thought the idea of choosing a man on the basis of his appearance was laughable. Why would they care what a man looked like? What they wanted to know was how good he was at hunting. How much food would he bring in? They couldn't support a family if one party wasn't bringing in their fair share. No good at hunting? No chance of marriage. This was not a group where marriages were arranged or imposed on either member of a couple by parents or clans or whatever. Once choosing a marriage partner is something both parties are free to choose or refuse and both parties contribute more or less equally to sustaining their family, then the marriages themselves are more "equal" to use a modern term.

    Seeing as this was a fairly small group of adults (as far as you can tell from the way the film was shot) anyone who behaved badly, rape included, would be known straight away. Don't know how they enforced social conventions but they are very important to the survival of hunter-gathering groups, but there'd be some followup.
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  12. #11  
    Forum Radioactive Isotope sculptor's Avatar
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    They thought the idea of choosing a man on the basis of his appearance was laughable
    ah, but, the heart wants what the heart wants
    wise choices may not be involved.

    ofttimes, I see the mind of the author/interviewer obscuring the reality.
    (This ain't nothing new as Maggie Mead warned of this problem many decades ago.)

    .......................
    different hunter gatherer/marginal agriculture clan or tribal units have different mores.

    Among some of the pygmies, the women build the shelters, and if a man finds his belongings outside the shelter, he knows to sleep elsewhere. Divorce there is a simple thing.

    Among some pacific island tribes, the father of a child is unimportant. The adult male in the childs life will be the mother's brother. Marriage is unrecognized.
    Last edited by sculptor; November 12th, 2013 at 12:00 PM.
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  13. #12  
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    Lol I like that...no attorney...stick the guy's stuff outside the lodge and "it's over!" In the US, and elsewhere, while progress in some ways can be seen as a positive, we complicate our lives, unnecessarily.:/TY for the comments, everyone--interesting points of view.
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  14. #13  
    ...matter and pixie dust wegs's Avatar
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    I read an article today discussing how there was approximate parity between the genders during the Paleolithic Period...based on equal decision making...how do researchers know this? The article didn't elaborate.
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by wegs View Post
    I read an article today discussing how there was approximate parity between the genders during the Paleolithic Period...based on equal decision making...how do researchers know this? The article didn't elaborate.
    how do researchers know this
    They don't. They are projecting themselves onto some poor paleolithic paople who cannot speak for themselves.

    What does seem obvious is that their small numbers most likely made each person more precious to the group.
    And, by extension, meeting new people was a rare treat.
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    ^^ I chuckled reading that, sculptor.
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