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Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory

by ; &

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-06-117091-7
Publisher: Smithsonian/Collins

A jauntily written reevaluation of women’s roles in human evolution.

Adovasio (The First Americans, 2002), Soffer (Anthropology/Univ. of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana) and science writer Page (In the Hands of the Great Spirit, 2003, etc.) reject the traditional view that men hunted the mammoth and women were passive consumers. Women made important contributions to the fiber arts and the invention of language and agriculture, they point out; it was bias in the days when men dominated the field of archaeology that led experts to ascribe the use of stone tools and weapons exclusively to men. Until recently, archaeologists weren’t even trained to look for evidence of women’s use of more perishable artifacts such as string and netting. The authors begin with Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the timeline leading to hominid evolution. Erect posture allowed hominids to walk long distances and carry things, such as babies, while the larger human brain evolved from changes in diet and reduction in size of “bite muscles,” allowing more room for thought. However, in the authors’ view, the notion that brain size was “the definitive key to humanness . . . played into the hands of male chauvinists.” Women’s brains are smaller than men’s, but they have the same number of neurons, organized differently. Moreover, the divergence in male and female brains may have resulted in part from the development of protospeech used by mothers to communicate with infants. The authors pursue all kinds of interesting theories, such as Bryan Sykes’s postulation that there are seven descendants of protowoman Eve. They argue for the central importance of the String Revolution, otherwise known as the Fiber Revolution, which began some 26,000 years ago in Eurasia. The impact of fiber, for making tools like nets and baskets, had “profound effects on human destiny—probably more profound than any advance in the technique of making spear points, knives, scrapers and other tools of stone.”

Satisfactory proof that the prehistoric war of the sexes was a standoff.