Friday, May 18, 2007

Women Bring New Perspectives to Archaeology

The Bend Weekly News reports on the new book The Invisible Sex and gender bias in the interpretation of archaeological finds.

"I think it's perfectly obvious that the whole man-is-the-hunter idea, while not necessarily totally wrong, was formed from a completely male perspective," said Sarah M. Nelson, a professor of archaeology at the University of Denver.
Perspectives didn't really start to change until the 1960s, when a few female archaeologists began to argue that existing science was based upon faulty premises.

"Some women archaeologists finally just got up and said, 'Wait a second, you're full of ...'" said Nelson.
The typical Natural History Museum diorama showing a male carrying a spear is largely based on the imagination of male archaeologists, not science.

Specifically, they asserted that tool use doesn't necessarily reveal the identity of the tool user. [James M.] Adovasio offered the Clacton tool as a case in point: It is a 300,000-year-old fragment of wood found in 1911 near the town of Clacton-on-the-Sea in England. The standard interpretation is that the tool is a spear point fashioned by a Paleolithic male. Adovasio says this assertion goes too far, given the limited evidence. The Clacton tool, he suggests, might be a fragment of a digging stick once used to unearth edible roots. Or perhaps it was both a spear and a digging tool, used at different times for different purposes by both males and females.

More to the point, Adovasio and colleagues write, "whatever the Clacton tool was (and it probably was a spear point), who is to say that females 300,000 years ago did not make spears and use them to help feed themselves and their offspring?"
I'll confess that I always just assumed there was a substantial basis for the "man is hunter, woman is gatherer" dichotomy. The article is well worth a read.

• "Neanderthal Women Joined Men in the Hunt" New York Times, 5 December 2006.

Tags: , ,