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To what extent is it possible for archaeologists to establish the differing roles of men and women in the past?

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Introduction

To what extent is it possible for archaeologists to establish the differing roles of men and women in the past? Gender is a fundamental component of one's social identity. It is comprised of learned behaviours and culturally communicated symbols that "materialise" a set of beliefs about masculinity and femininity - primarily that men and women are different and have different roles and responsibilities in social reproduction and maintenance. Gender systems include: beliefs; activities (gendered division of labour); characteristics of personal appearance (hair length, placement of jewellery, etc); modes of interaction and reaction (violence, crying, etc.); mediate and reflect the identities of and relationships between members of gender categories. The sexual division of labour is often dependent on a woman's reproductive status. For example, it is argued that in most hunting and gathering groups women do not hunt because this activity is incompatible with childbearing and child rearing. In many societies, females that are either premenarcheal or post-menopausal are able to participate in social activities and enter social spaces otherwise denied to women of reproductive age. ...read more.

Middle

Since then the importance of scavenging and the likely role of women in the transition from gathering to horticulture has been recognised. Jane Spector - studying gender differentiation in archaeological contexts necessitates prior background work in ethnographic contexts, dealing with tasks performed by women and men, areas within settlement used for such activity, equipment and value assigned to task. This makes it possible to suggest far more about gender roles in prehistory but it will be a long time before the results of such work are ready to be used when establishing the differing roles. Ethnographic studies are employed to gain insights into task differentiation between males and females. The underlying problem with this is that most anthropologists are male. This has led to criticism, as males appear to be more interested in male activities and have failed to observe female tasks and behaviour. Cave paintings found in the Ural Mountains are an example of how women were viewed in the Stone Age society. Vladimir Shirokov says that the paintings, which date from the Upper Paleolithic period of human development, are thought to describe what young men needed to know about the world in order to survive. ...read more.

Conclusion

Carrying loads on their heads deformed the bones of the upper spine; the pitting found in the vertebra indicates disk damage. Pounding grain in a mortar and pestle and operating a quern strongly developed the arm muscles. When determining the sexes at Abu Hureyra, measurements of the first metatarsal bone of the foot demonstrated that it was generally larger in males, and by this means I was determined that most of the bones showing the saddle-quern effects were from females. It was concluded that the women and girls in the household usually prepared the grain, whereas the men hunted and cultivated food plants. The gendered division of labour/roles is generally accepted to be universal in anatomically and behaviourally "modern" human groups, although it is uncertain when in the evolution of our species it developed. It is a great common presumption that the primary function of gender is to organise labour. Gender did not arise specifically as a means of organising economic and other activities, but there is a link between gender and the division of labour. Gender is normally the primary factor, as well as age, that determines who does what. ...read more.

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