The Human Past

The Human Past

In Anthropology 2017 we began our unit on Archaeology with readings concerning how we study the human past. We particularly focused on reinterpreting women in the prehistoric record. For class notes focused more on how to do archaeology, ethics, and indigenous peoples, see this 2016 archaeology class.

  • Lavenda & Schultz chapter 6, “How Do We Know about the Human Past?” (163-192) in Anthropology: What Does it Mean to be Human?
  • New Women of the Ice Age by Heather Pringle in Discover (1998)
  • Compare this article with the box in Lavenda & Schultz pp.153-155, “Women’s Art in the Upper Paleolithic?” by Catherine Hodge McCoid and LeRoy D. McDermott.

What we used to think (and many people still think)

is that there is a transition from “Man the Hunter” –> “Man the Herder” –> “Man the Farmer” –> “Man the Scientist”
Throughout this unit, we will be questioning this mythology

What do we learn about “Man the Hunter” from “New Women of the Ice Age”?

Importance of Woman the Gatherer, providing 70% of calories in many groups
Men also gather
Women hunting: Net-hunting; Snares & traps; Animal drives and surrounds
Man the Scavenger
In fact, some have even re-portrayed this story as Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution by Donna Hart and Robert W. Sussman.

Hunters and Gatherers

In last 50 years, there has been a major reassessment of these groups
Diverse habitats and techniques
Successful subsistence strategy around the habitable world
More sophisticated toolkit than we thought
By some measures, perhaps more complex than early agriculture
Environmental knowledge & management
Importance of women
[I’ve posted about this as Many Ways of Gathering & Hunting]

What were figurines for?

Female-centered rituals
Prophecy, divination, reading the future
Found this out by exploding them!
Or, perhaps to do with female body perspective (Lavenda & Schultz:153-155, taken from Toward Decolonizing Gender: Female Vision in the Upper Paleolithic)
Pregnancy & reproduction, medicine
Very sure not “primitive porn”
“what crap” (Jim Adovasio)

Why IS “Man the Hunter” such a powerful image?

Science is not perfect, part of sexist society
Glorification of human achievement: Nobody wants to be a scavenger
Hunting stories: People talk more about hunting
Hunting evidence lasts longer: Large-boned animals, hunting instruments, paintings

Archaeology & Gender (183)
Collaborative Approaches (185)
Janet Spector, historical archaeology in US


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