Some anthropologists make a case that our extinct female cousins hunted alongside the males during an epoch when our own ancestral women were gathering plants and doing other (essential) work. They argue that the appearance of gender roles was critical to humans' eventual domination of the globe - and that the importance of the women of the Pleistocene period has been vastly understated.
It's a fairly long article. I remember this coming up a while ago, but I can't find any of my posts on it. I did locate one of John Hawks' though and he seemed none too impressed by the whole thing. There are a couple of bits in the article that piqued my interest though. This first was Olga Soffer suggesting that it was the recognition of different sexes that led to symbolic thinking:
Olga Soffer, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois and an author, with Adovasio and Jake Page, of The Invisible Sex, says it was our ancestors' understanding of gender and gender roles that made us fully, cognitively human as recently as 40,000 to 50,000 years ago - the time that cave art and jewelry start to appear.
Later on, Richard Klein notes that
Gender distinctions, in his more mainstream view, go back more than a million years. He believes a genetic change spurred artistic and cultural advances.
A mutation in the DNA, he says, might have reorganized the brain without changing its size. It may have helped humans create more complex communication - thus offering an advantage that would spread through the population.
I suppose, logically, nothing says that the latter precludes the former, if one grants that maybe gender recognition is a result of that genetic change.
Still, with the possible exception of the fracture patterns in both Neanderthal sexes being similar (I haven't seen the paper so I don't know how extensively this was examined), I still tend not to see much convincing argument that one can sex artifacts as far as which gender made or used them.
(HT to Patrick at TPW)