Over the past few weeks I have read a lot of archaeological reports about the Neolithic period in southern Britain and they are full of amazing details about the people who died between 4 to 6 thousand years ago. They talk of Causewayed Enclosures, axe heads, flint tools and mortuary practices. Fascinating, if you are interested in such things, but they mostly talk of things that reflect the male perspective on life. (I am aware that we have no idea how many of the objects were used or by whom so I may well be assessing the use of such objects with a 21st bias. The neolithic was very different in so many ways to the way we live).
One thing doesn’t change and that is the need to reproduce and ensure that the next generation have the best chance of maturing. In a sedentary society, that is one that stays in one place and farms rather than roaming a range as the mesolithic hunter gatherers would have done this means that women would be more likely to be tied to the homestead as looking after the livestock in the fields, or hunting for larger fauna in the still significant woodlands that would surround the homestead – having a small child on a hunt is more likely to scare the prey away. Of course it may well be that the neolithic was a female dominated society but given the difference in strength levels between males and females this is less likely to be the case. In short the homestead would most likely be where females ruled and out in the fields and on the hunt is where males are most likely to have dominated.
This doesn’t mean that females were at a disadvantage as they would have formed support groups, if for no other reason that childbirth is the most dangerous thing that a female can endure and the help and support of older and more experienced females would most likely reduce the chances of childbirth being fatal for both mother and child. This remains and detritus of this fascinating social, if my understanding of how neolithic society may have operated is correct, network is hardly ever found and so the archaeology tends to have a male bias, again I acknowledge that this might also be my bias, whilst the only part of the female story is recorded in their worn joints. We have no evidence of the social interactions that took place whilst the women were grinding corn as the young children ran around them getting into trouble and being chastised for their behaviour. These people were the same as us apart from the 6000 years of accumulated knowledge: They would have chatted, gossiped and complained just as we do but these gatherings leave hardly any evidence and so archaeology is the poorer for that.