Abstract: The Invisible Sex: Some Thoughts on the Role of Women in Prehistory

Lecturer: James Adovasio

Since the seminal discovery of lithic artifacts in association with the remains of extinct Pleistocene fauna in southwestern France during the middle of the 19thCentury, a variety of stereotypes have persisted on the role(s) of women in the past.  These generally negative stereotypes have persisted up to the present for a variety of complex reasons.  Foremost among them was the inability of investigators to entertain alternative explanations as well as a fundamental failure to recognize and appropriately evaluate evidence contradictory to these stereotypes.  This myopia was compounded by the domination of Paleoanthropology by males until relatively recently.  Due to the so-called “tyranny of preservation,” stereotypes about women in the past also stress the primacy of stone tools in understanding ancient lifeways and emphasize the specialized hunting of now extinct Pleiocene and Pleistocene megafauna by mature males.  Indeed, the central role of hunting by males is often presented to this day as the be-all and end-all of Ice Age lifeways.  If mentioned at all, women as well as the old and the young of both sexes are characterized solely as minor players.  Careful assessment of the available information from both the Old and the New World indicates that the andro-litho-centric view of the past with its “men in furs sticking sharp spears into large animals” image is fatally flawed.  Current information about early lifeways is assessed and evaluated, and a very different behavioral scenario is presented.

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Richard Talbert is the William Rand Kenan, Jr. Professor with the History Department of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.  He studied Classics at Cambridge University before... Read More

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