Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Neanderthal update Althouse is having a rousing discussion on Neanderthal women: Desperate HouseCavewives or Amazon Warriors?

UPDATE: I put these comments at Althouse, which I am reproducing here since I have no idea whether it ever actually got posted or not. . . .

Well, I linked to this and came up with a pretty nifty hook, if I do say so myself.

But you know, this whole division-of-labor thing has been haunting archaeologists forever. And it's led to some pretty off the wall hypotheses. One major problem is that much of archaeology is anthropology-driven, and anthropologists only study modern peoples, be they first-world suburbanites or fourth world hunter-gatherers. The classic studies of modern H-G's has, unfortunately, colored much of how we view the past. The problem is that we have assumed (mostly, there has been criticism of this) that modern H-G's are somehow ancient holdovers from the past. That is, that we can use modern H-G's as a model of how prehistoric H-G societies lived. This is where the whole "Man the Hunter, Woman the Gatherer" hypothesis came from. But that assumes that no change has occurred for thousands of years and that these modern groups really do represent ancient people that time forgot. But they're not; they are modern societies existing in a contemporary setting, albeit with simpler technologies and social structures.

There are biological constraints, of course, that may suggest that women played different roles regardless of where/when said society existed. Childbearing and nursing obviously impact the kinds of activities women can participate in. Demonstrating what those activities are is another matter entirely, when the rocks and bones and sticks and stones of the archaeological record aren't generally stamped with the gender that made and/or used them and one extends the ethnographic present back at one's peril.

Shutting up with the archaeological theory now. . . .

ANOTHER UPDATE: Interestingly, I linked to this very post in the above Update so what we have here is an example of recursion.