Representation of a Bronze Age woman in Dartmoor.

New Study Questions Archaic Views on Gender Roles, Showing Women as Cultural Leaders

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Saying that someone with archaic views on gender roles lives in the Stone Age may not work anymore. A new study suggests that men and women in Lechtal, Germany during the Stone and Bronze Ages probably did not have the roles most people would assume.

Phys.org reports that most females had migrated into the area as adults, probably from Bohemia or Central Germany. Men apparently remained in the same region they were born. This process persisted from the Neolithic into the Early Bronze age, for around 800 years.

Philipp Stockhammer, of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistoric Archaeology and Archaeology of the Roman Provinces of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, said “Individual mobility was a major feature characterizing the lives of people in Central Europe even in the 3rd and early 2nd millennium.”

He told the Telegraph,

“We all know these stories about warrior men out fighting and bringing home food while the women and children stayed at home but it appears things were quite different. Our study suggests that almost none of the men had travelled, while two thirds of the women had.”

Reconstruction of a Neolithic woman, Trento science museum. (Matteo De Stefano/MUSE/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

The researchers completed ancient DNA analysis, stable isotope data of oxygen, and radiogenic isotope ratios of strontium for 84 radiocarbon-dated skeletons of the Late Neolithic Bell Beaker Complex and the Early Bronze Age.

4,000 years ago, European women traveled far from their home villages to start their families, bringing with them new cultural objects and ideas.

4,000 years ago, European women traveled far from their home villages to start their families, bringing with them new cultural objects and ideas. ( Stadtarchäologie Augsburg )

In general, it seems that members of the Beaker Culture were cultural leaders in their time. April Holloway previously reported for Ancient Origins :

“The Beaker culture [2800 – 1800 BC] is thought to have originated in either the Iberian Peninsula, the Netherlands or Central Europe and subsequently spread out across Western Europe. They are known for a particular pottery type they developed, but also a complex cultural phenomenon involving shared ideological, cultural and religious ideas.”

The distinctive Bell Beaker pottery drinking vessels shaped like an inverted bell

The distinctive Bell Beaker pottery drinking vessels shaped like an inverted bell ( Public Domain )

Corina Knipper said examining the skeletons’ molars was especially helpful in discovering the female migrants, “Based on analysis of strontium isotope ratios in molars, which allows us to draw conclusions about the origin of people, we were able to ascertain that the majority of women did not originate from the region.”

Philipp Stockhammer elaborated on how the analysis of molars could paint the migration story.“ We have three types of molar in our mouths and they are mineralized at different ages.” He said, “Every soil has a different signature such as chalk or clay, and the water drunk from these different soils provides a different signature on the tooth, enabling us to have some indication of where they have been.”

The skeletons were found in seven different cemeteries that served individual homesteads in a fertile region during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The graves ranged from individual burials to interments containing several individuals. Migrant women were buried in the same style as local burials, which suggests that the women were likely integrated into their new communities.

When the female migrants moved to their new homes they would have brought different ideas, technology, and customs with them. As the researchers write in the abstract to their article: “The results also attest to female mobility as a driving force for regional and supra-regional communication and exchange at the dawn of the European metal ages.” Thus, the migrant women settled into their new homes and transformed the cultural landscape at the same time.

European women travelled far from their home villages to start families, bringing new cultural objects and ideas.

European women travelled far from their home villages to start families, bringing new cultural objects and ideas. ( Stadtarchäologie Augsburg / SWNS )

The results of this study are published in PNAS .

Top Image: Representation of a Bronze Age woman in Dartmoor. Source: DNPA/BBC/ National Museums Scotland

By Alicia McDermott

Comments

Women have always been more mobile than men. To avoid issues of inbreeding, women have always moved from their parent's place to live with their husbands - often moving over large distances. Men usually stayed put to farm their ancestral lands or hunt in area well known to them. Women moved and took their mobile wealth (jewellery, tents, carpets etc) with them.

The other reason why female DNA travels more is 'war'.  In ancient times, women were often 'taken' as war booty.  Men were killed off, but women were taken away and sold as slaves or used for pleasure by the victors.  This resulted in women ending up in far flung corners of the world, spreading their DNA wider than otherwise anticipated. 

Another part of the article talked about women being guardians of culture.  
I have found this be the case even when the women end up in a foreign world.  Women have propagated the culture by keeping alive mythologies, retelling folklore, passing on ancient recipes, honouring family deities, weaving and wearing ancestral clothes, holding on to heirlooms, following customs, celebrating festivals and speaking the 'mother' tongue.  Interestingly enough, women, when they enter a new culture, seem to take over the mantel of 'guardians' of the new culture.  Even as slaves, they take on the language and customs of their 'master's' nation and teach their children the new culture.  As wives this is even more so and they often want to stick to 'tradition' more than their husbands. 

We can see evidence of this all around us.  Observe any new migrant community and you will see that the men will have adopted the clothes, language and mannerisms of the host community, but the women will hold onto their traditional clothes, foods and language the longest.      
I hope these observations are of interest to other readers of this article.

Bhagwat Shah

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