Stone age man had 'feminine side'

July 31, 2012, University of Manchester

Dr. Karina Croucher, who has studied buried remains of people living between 7,500 and 10,000 years ago across the Middle East, says the stereotypical view of how Neolithic men and women lived is wrong.

Unlike today, she argues, it was normal for and women to show for each other-  and gender was not so clearly defined.

The researcher argues male bias in archaeology has distorted our understanding of how ancient peoples lived, in a new book published by Oxford University Press.

Of the 40 people buried in a “death pit” in South Eastern Turkey where she was part of an excavation team, there were equal numbers of men and women.

Her theory is also based, in part, by the find of a teenage girl’s skull buried carefully by the pit, called Kim by the team.

The girl – between 15 and 17 years old - whose face has been reconstructed by Chris Rynn and Caroline Wilkinson, now at Dundee University with Stuart Campbell from The University of Manchester, was deeply cared for by the men and women who tended the site. The facial reconstruction creates an emotive picture of the girl who lived 7,500 years ago.

Kim was carefully placed next to the death pit. The pit contained the fragmented remains of around 40 people, along with animal remains, pottery, flint, obsidian, and other material culture. It also displays signs of cannibalism.

Though the finds to modern eyes are gruesome, Dr. Croucher says, they show a compassionate side to both Neolithic men and women.

She said: “In the Death Pit, a specific choice was made to inter these human remains  - including Kim - within its context, and that undoubtedly required care and effort, not only in its construction, but additionally in keeping the area protected and clear of scavengers. Even the cannibalism was probably seen by these people as a compassionate act.

"When human remains from across the region are examined, it becomes apparent that it was difficult for the living to let go of their loved ones. For example, human faces were recreated onto the skulls of the dead using plaster, and they were cared for within houses. This treatment was not dependent on age or gender, but according to relationships and emotive ties.

“This and other evidence shows that it’s clear the relationship between men and women during the Neolithic Period does not conform to the modern age.

“The stereotypical and inaccurate view of male hunters dominating their more submissive female counterparts is an articulation of male bias in archaeology.

“It was much less well defined than that: were treated equally in death and were shown equal compassion, and their tasks were likely to be thought of as equal during life. Our biases in the present were not relevant to our ancestors, and are not natural or inherent behaviours.

“So we should not understand the past in our own terms: it’s more about their relationships with each other; materials and animals.

Dr. Croucher's  book was made possible by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Explore further: Men have a stronger reaction to seeing other men's emotions compared with women's

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Frog choruses inspire wireless sensor networks

January 21, 2019

If you've ever camped by a pond, you know frogs make a racket at night; but what you might not know is how functional and regulated their choruses really are. Frogs communicate with sound, and amid their ruckus is an internally ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 31, 2012
I question the relevance of a potentially cannibalistic death pit when it comes to gender roles or compassion based on gender.

We have the Bible and other ancient texts showing women doingmany of the same tasks stereo typically attributed to men.

In the book of Ruth and in the Proverbs, women are working in the fields and vineyards in addition to the stereotypical things like sewing or cooking. Men are seen cooking about as often as women, and the first Pharaoh during the time of Joseph had a male Baker.

There are female Judges (which at the time was the highest political/legal office in the nation,) and Deborah even commanded the army.

It appears that a female was not supposed to be in the priesthood, but we see "priestesses" who are such by marriage, and appear to hold and maintain some of the priestly duties.

While these are rare events, they are notable to be mentioned in a book which is on the surface largely male gender biased, yet not to the degree of stereotype in today.
3 / 5 (4) Jul 31, 2012
Interesting that neolithic man lived in houses. What kind of houses would be interesting to find out. Wonder who swept the floors with reed brooms while the other beat the clothes clean on a rock in the local stream.....Jus' wonderin'!
3.5 / 5 (6) Jul 31, 2012
@ Lurker2358:

Don't be ridiculous. Religious texts are myths, and it is known that nearly everything of these post-semitic religions are non-historical and more importantly here, non-archaeological.

For example, archaeologists have shown that there was no migration abroad from Palestine, the culture stayed the same and the large movements described left none of the expected traces. So these texts can't be relied on for *anything*.

Just to make the point, the history of the roots of jewish and christian religion seems to be that it was based on greek paganism left behind after the hardships of the macedonian conquests. The conquered likely adopted the conquerors beliefs as superior.

Thereafter the common myth package that found texts tells of at ~ 100 CE diverged into separate cults. So this happened between ~ 300 BCE - 200 CE. At that time, the pharaohs were greeks.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 01, 2012
It also seems to me that 7,500 to 10,000 years wasn't THAT long ago. If we were talking 50,000 or 100,000 the idea of living in a time before our modern human culture 'corrupted' our gender roles makes sense, but the time frame referenced here doesn't seem terribly far removed from the advent of early cities/states, which were clearly male-dominated.
1 / 5 (3) Aug 04, 2012
Feminism is so moronically nonsensical that "feminist archaeologists" have decided to expostulate on the gender roles of people thousands of years ago.

I am using my "male-gendered" logic and commonsense to deduce the utter idiocy of this article. Fire away, feministas!

Why is this drek published in a scientific journal? Title IX for physics is just around the corner. Soon female PhD physicists can displace their privileged male PhD counterparts in the unemployment line. LOL!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.