Pottery was not an exclusive activity of women a thousand years ago

Pottery was not an exclusive activity of women a thousand years ago

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Along the history, we have assumed that certain tasks have been performed based on gender. For example, it is believed that in hunter-gatherer societies, men hunted and women gathered for food.

However, many of these claims are based on assumptions, since direct evidence from archaeological sites is scarce. Therefore, it has not yet been possible to rebuild the evolution of this sexual division of labor.

In ancient Puebloan society, a group of Native American peoples in the southwestern United States, which suffered colonization by the Spanish in the 16th century, the hypothesis seemed to be the same: women performed pottery and other traditional domestic tasks, while men performed dedicated to hunting and agriculture.

To verify this theory, a team of scientists, led by the University of North Florida (USA), has published in the journal PNAS an innovative method using fingerprints registered on ceramic jars to identify the sex of the people who worked with clay in this ancient society.

“We found that the ratio of male to female impressions varied over time and between different households. This suggests that pottery making was not a gender-related activity. And if that is true for pottery, perhaps it is also true for other types of activities, "said John Kantner, a researcher at the American university, and lead author of the work.

Thousand-year fingerprints

The scientists analyzed 985 fragments of jars about a thousand years old. From each of them, they studied the impressions left by fingerprints since, according to forensic science, human sex can be determined by measuring the roughness of the friction of those marks.

Using a high-powered digital microscope, the researchers were able to perform the calculations and determine the sex of the potter.

"Although sex is a biological term, and gender is culturally determined, insofar as the two are linked, we can use fingerprint sex to infer the gender of the potters," Kantner explains.

The ceramic production in Puebloan I can be marked by the development of the Chaco canyon, in modern Mexico, as a very influential political and religious center. At that time there was a high demand for pottery, which may have encouraged men and women to work with clay.

The results force scientists to think about the past differently. "Some things that we consider intrinsic to human nature, such as gender work, are not an essential human characteristic," emphasizes the researcher.

According to the author, the work suggests that "that perhaps we cannot always assume that ancient societies were similar to us today." Today, it is assumed that there has always been a strong gender division of labor, but it is possible that “this is the result of recent historical influences such as European colonization and the enculturation of many people around the world,” he says. Kantner.

"Maybe things were very different in the past," he concludes.

Bibliographic reference:

John Kantner, David McKinney, Michele Pierson, and Shaza Wester. "Reconstructing sexual divisions of labor from fingerprints on Ancestral Puebloan pottery”PNAS June 3, 2019.

Via Adeline Marcos in Sinc.

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