The Human Past

Intro to Anthropology 2017 began the unit on Archaeology with readings concerning how we study the human past. We particularly focused on reinterpreting women in the prehistoric record. Since this was the last time that I assigned “New Women of the Ice Age,” that is what I concentrate on in the notes below.

  • Lavenda and Schultz, “How Do We Know about the Human Past?” in Anthropology: What Does it Mean to be Human?
  • “New Women of the Ice Age” by Heather Pringle in Discover (1998)
  • “Women’s Art in the Upper Paleolithic?” by Catherine Hodge McCoid and LeRoy D. McDermott.

This material was for Anthropology 2017. For class notes focused more on how to do archaeology, ethics, and indigenous peoples, see this 2016 archaeology class. For a 2021 update see Gender Archaeology and this YouTube lecture using the 5th edition of Anthropology: What does it mean to be human?


I have attempted to cover this material on figurines and archaeological interpretations several times:

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

Living Anthropologically means documenting history, interconnection, and power during a time of global transformation. We need to care for others as we attempt to build a world together. This blog is a personal project of Jason Antrosio, author of Fast, Easy, and In Cash: Artisan Hardship and Hope in the Global Economy. For updates, subscribe to the YouTube channel or follow on Twitter.

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