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Shaped by cartoons and museum dioramas, our vision of Paleolithic times tends to feature fur-clad male hunters fearlessly attacking mammoths while timid women hover fearfully behind a boulder. In fact, recent research has shown that this vision bears little relation to reality. The field of archaeology has changed dramatically in the past two decades, as women have challeng Shaped by cartoons and museum dioramas, our vision of Paleolithic times tends to feature fur-clad male hunters fearlessly attacking mammoths while timid women hover fearfully behind a boulder. In fact, recent research has shown that this vision bears little relation to reality. The field of archaeology has changed dramatically in the past two decades, as women have challenged their male colleagues' exclusive focus on hard artifacts such as spear points rather than tougher to find evidence of women's work. J. M. Adovasio and Olga Soffer are two of the world's leading experts on perishable artifacts such as basketry, cordage, and weaving. In The Invisible Sex, the authors present an exciting new look at prehistory, arguing that women invented all kinds of critical materials, including the clothing necessary for life in colder climates, the ropes used to make rafts that enabled long-distance travel by water, and nets used for communal hunting. Even more important, women played a central role in the development of language and social life—in short, in our becoming human. In this eye-opening book, a new story about women in prehistory emerges with provocative implications for our assumptions about gender today.


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Shaped by cartoons and museum dioramas, our vision of Paleolithic times tends to feature fur-clad male hunters fearlessly attacking mammoths while timid women hover fearfully behind a boulder. In fact, recent research has shown that this vision bears little relation to reality. The field of archaeology has changed dramatically in the past two decades, as women have challeng Shaped by cartoons and museum dioramas, our vision of Paleolithic times tends to feature fur-clad male hunters fearlessly attacking mammoths while timid women hover fearfully behind a boulder. In fact, recent research has shown that this vision bears little relation to reality. The field of archaeology has changed dramatically in the past two decades, as women have challenged their male colleagues' exclusive focus on hard artifacts such as spear points rather than tougher to find evidence of women's work. J. M. Adovasio and Olga Soffer are two of the world's leading experts on perishable artifacts such as basketry, cordage, and weaving. In The Invisible Sex, the authors present an exciting new look at prehistory, arguing that women invented all kinds of critical materials, including the clothing necessary for life in colder climates, the ropes used to make rafts that enabled long-distance travel by water, and nets used for communal hunting. Even more important, women played a central role in the development of language and social life—in short, in our becoming human. In this eye-opening book, a new story about women in prehistory emerges with provocative implications for our assumptions about gender today.

30 review for The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Iset

    At the beginning of the book the authors provide three scenes of life in the Upper Palaeolithic featuring some rather skewed and silly stereotypes, and directly state that they set out to answer what is wrong with these pictures. I assumed they’d go on to discuss two points – the biases of Victorian antiquarians and historians and archaeologists of the 20th century, and the archaeological evidence itself, in what ways the evidence had been mishandled and what evidence there is that clearly shows At the beginning of the book the authors provide three scenes of life in the Upper Palaeolithic featuring some rather skewed and silly stereotypes, and directly state that they set out to answer what is wrong with these pictures. I assumed they’d go on to discuss two points – the biases of Victorian antiquarians and historians and archaeologists of the 20th century, and the archaeological evidence itself, in what ways the evidence had been mishandled and what evidence there is that clearly shows female activity. The authors don’t so much address the first point as much as I would have liked, and the second point they only come to in the later chapters. In the first half of the book they actually spend a great deal of time discussing hominid biology, such as how remarkable it is that the human female pelvis is designed in such a way as to maximise brain size and still barely allow the baby to fit through the birth canal, or how brain size proportional to body size is a more critical indicator of intelligence than flat up comparing the fact that male brain size is on average larger in volume than that of females. Well, that’s great and all, but I felt like it was tangential – a woman’s biology tells us nothing about her accomplishments or evidence for her activities in the stone age, and I thought that’s what the authors set out to illuminate. In addition, the book’s age shows and some of the authors hold outdated views even for the year it was published. The authors fail to mention the Denisovan hominids, or the fact that humans and Neanderthals interbred – both discoveries made after publication. The authors also hold on to the Multi-regional theory – the idea that an earlier hominid, perhaps Homo erectus, having spread out of Africa across Asia and Europe, then evolved separately in each region somehow into all Homo sapiens everywhere, and this is what accounts for our superficial skin-deep differences. I surely don’t need to discuss at length how unlikely it would be that separate populations would just so happen to all evolve into the same species, but it gets worse, as the authors flat out claim that there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever that Homo sapiens arose entirely in Africa and spread out across the globe. Stephen Oppenheimer wants to speak to you – there is a lot of evidence for it actually, both in DNA and excavated artefacts. In addition, one of the authors believes firmly in the Creative Explosion hypothesis – the one that posits that even though Homo sapiens is anatomically the same since 200,000 BCE there was some kind of hidden difference in the brain until c. 40,000 BCE in Europe when some magical unseen change gave us a flourishing of art and culture. This is, of course, nonsense, as there is evidence earlier and in different places for art, it ignores the lack of physical change, and it fails to explain how everyone else not in Europe developed higher thinking skills. As Oppenheimer (a geneticist) said, there is no gene for creativity. In the end, this book actually debunked very little about the lives of women in the stone age, and worse, perpetuated some very shaky, even disproven hypotheses. I can't honestly recommend it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alex Telander

    THE INVISIBLE SEX: UNCOVERING THE TRUE ROLES OF WOMEN IN PREHISTORY BY J. M. ADOVASIO, OLGA SOFFER, AND JAKE PAGE: While the cover of The Invisible Sex indicates an interesting history book with its parchment design and implied cave painting of a woman, many may be deterred by the title and subtitle, thinking this a book championing the role of women only, pointing out chapter by chapter where all the men got it wrong in history. This would be an error on the reader’s part. The Invisible Sex is THE INVISIBLE SEX: UNCOVERING THE TRUE ROLES OF WOMEN IN PREHISTORY BY J. M. ADOVASIO, OLGA SOFFER, AND JAKE PAGE: While the cover of The Invisible Sex indicates an interesting history book with its parchment design and implied cave painting of a woman, many may be deterred by the title and subtitle, thinking this a book championing the role of women only, pointing out chapter by chapter where all the men got it wrong in history. This would be an error on the reader’s part. The Invisible Sex is an amazing book that specifically charts humanity’s ancestry from the day when apes were the most evolved animal around, to some four to six thousand years ago when humanity settled down and began farming. What makes this anthropology book different is that the authors point out the known history on a certain period in time and then reveal the evidence and push forward the correct interpretation of women having a much larger role in civilization than was previously thought. Coupled with the up to date information and discoveries on our ancestry, The Invisible Sex is a great, easy to read book for any anthropology addict, or for anyone who wants to know what really was going on with our species in the last two million years. Even though it is unclear which author is writing which chapters or parts, Adovasio, Soffer and Page are all working from their specified careers, drawing together their knowledge and talents to present a comprehensive meld of human history. The book begins at our beginning with the discovery of Lucy in Ethiopia and why this was such an important discovery – as to whether Lucy is actually female or just simply a male of small stature, remains unknown. While presenting a complete history of the Homo genus, they also take the reader through a history of the archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians who made the discoveries in the last couple hundred years. It is here that the essence of the book is revealed, as the authors point out the assumed role of men always conducting the hunting and gathering while the women stayed in the hut, looking after the children, and occasionally collecting the odd nut and berry. Coupled with this is the image of the brave and strong cavemen/hunters taking down woolly mammoths and giant sloths and providing the tribe with food for weeks. Coincidentally this ties in with the period in history when all the men were out working, bringing in the money, while the women stayed home, cleaning house and looking after the children. They reveal the known history and then take it a part and got to the evidence, revealing what it says and what was really the dynamic of this time: that the men in fact weren’t killing woolly mammoths easily, providing all with bountiful meat, because the mammoth was the most feared animal around with its immense size and gouging tusks. In all likelihood the hunting was done in a large group involving women, children and other family members. They were not going after woolly mammoths and sloths, but were more focused on smaller animals like foxes, rabbits and other animals of similar size. Using large nets, they would scare these animals out from hiding, catch them in the nets, club them to death and then have a large supply of meat for some time. Read the rest of the review here. For more book reviews, and author interviews, go to BookBanter.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Heath

    This was a fascinating, informative read. I thought the authors really endeavored to be objective in their tone and exploration of various evidence, striking the right balance of skepticism of androcentic archaeological findings and skepticism of knee-jerk feminist assumptions. I gave this book a rating of only 3 stars, however, because it felt like the authors spent the first 3/5 of the book essentially offering up some archaeological findings of the distant past and then repeating the notion t This was a fascinating, informative read. I thought the authors really endeavored to be objective in their tone and exploration of various evidence, striking the right balance of skepticism of androcentic archaeological findings and skepticism of knee-jerk feminist assumptions. I gave this book a rating of only 3 stars, however, because it felt like the authors spent the first 3/5 of the book essentially offering up some archaeological findings of the distant past and then repeating the notion that sex, much less gender roles, are nearly impossible to discern in the deeps of prehistory. Not until the last 2/5 of the book did we reach anything beyond pure conjecture. I felt too much of the book was dedicated to explaining the evolution of homo sapien, rather than the development as woman as a gender and her activity in prehistory. Still a very interesting book but I had no idea what I was getting myself into!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michele bookloverforever

    It was always assumed that men were the hunter-gatherers. why? because the first archeology books were written by men who could not imagine women doing anything more than cooking, cleaning house/tents and bearing and taking care of children. In actuality of course, they did far more. an interesting book. Why do we all assume it was a man who invented the wheel or discovered fire making?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    Very interesting and readable with some avoidable sexism J.M. Adovasio is an archaeologist. Olga Soffer is an anthropologist, and Jake Page is a science writer. They have put together in "The Invisible Sex" a book that attempts to (1) Bring the general reader up to date on the latest developments in archaeology or paleo-anthropology; (2) Uncover the True Roles of Women in Prehistory (as in the subtitle); and (3) Provide a corrective to a male-dominated view of the prehistory. The main image they want Very interesting and readable with some avoidable sexism J.M. Adovasio is an archaeologist. Olga Soffer is an anthropologist, and Jake Page is a science writer. They have put together in "The Invisible Sex" a book that attempts to (1) Bring the general reader up to date on the latest developments in archaeology or paleo-anthropology; (2) Uncover the True Roles of Women in Prehistory (as in the subtitle); and (3) Provide a corrective to a male-dominated view of the prehistory. The main image they want to correct is that of the great male hunter bravely slaying mastodons and in general bringing home the bacon to an adoring and appreciative family or band. What the authors want readers to see is that women weren't just tag-alongs on the way to our becoming fully modern humans, but at least equal partners. The authors refer to nets, threads, garments, basket weaving, cordage, digging sticks, the famous "Venus" statuettes, and other cultural artifacts to demonstrate the enormous role that women played culturally. They speculate that women invented farming, that they too engaged in the hunt, as well as producing works of art as important as the famous cave paintings. The main method used by the authors is to infer the past from a study of recent hunter-gatherer societies while comparing ancient artifacts with more recent ones. This method certainly ought to provide insight into human life in prehistory, but of course there are some problems. The main one I think is that the "primitive" societies extant today or in the near past are not necessary typical of those that existed in prehistory because today's tribes occupy marginal lands since the best lands have long been given over to modern societies. Personally, I never had any doubt about the significant role females played in the history of the species. Indeed, my feeling has always been that women are the default human being, and men an appendage, a necessary evil if you will. (Ha!) I don't think we need to study archaeology to understand that the central role in human culture is and was occupied by women. There is a sense of pandering and begging the question in the way the authors insist on the obvious. I think it stems from the fact that women in some of the sciences have felt and still do feel like second class citizens. But that is changing. As the authors point out, most anthropologists today are women. The old male-delusional interpretations of culture in paleo-societies or in modern gatherer-hunter societies are a thing of the past. Instead we are in danger of having female-delusional interpretations. Here are a couple of examples of "reverse" sexism in the text: From page 209: The authors imagine that "Aboriginal men" may have sniffed "contemptuously at the shell hooks and...strings that their women were using, making invidious comparisons of those little toys...with their mighty, multipointed, barbed, aerodynamic spears and other large instruments." Actually the men may have looked admiringly at such tools since such tools increased their subsistence. On pages 248-249 in pre-Columbian New Mexico: While the women were farming, "The men had continued to spend much of their time roaming the surround, hunting (or goofing off?)." I think time spent "goofing off" applies to both sexes. Frankly I am a bit weary of books that focus on sexualism in one form or the other to the exclusion of the science itself. This book would have been a lot better had the stance been devoid of sexism and just concentrated on what the authors have learned and understand. Their various interpretations of the enigmatic Venus of Willendorf figurine, from goddess to porn star, is a case in point. Clearly the figure, which the authors quite naturally attribute to a female artist, is a symbol in some sense of fertility, not just the fertility of the female, but of the earth itself since no woman could have gotten so corpulent except during a period of plenty. And that is what probably enamored those who made and kept such figures--the idea of the season of plenty. Such a woman not only had plenty to eat, but was a heavy favorite to survive whatever winter may come. Her personal sexuality is secondary to the generalized idea of fertility. As for bringing the general reader up to date on the latest developments in archaeology or paleo-anthropology, the authors provide some interesting material. What has happened is that because of new technologies and more professional care taken by the scientists themselves, we are now able to unearth and be aware of artifacts such as threads, baskets, nets, etc., in a way previously not possible. And, it is true, it helps to see these artifacts from a woman's point of view, that is, as a gender female looking at what happened and assessing the importance of the artifacts, and drawing conclusions that did not occur to the old guys who once dominated the social sciences. Of course even better would be a balanced perspective, a fully human perspective, but we still have a ways to go to achieve that. Perhaps the most glaring omission in the book is the failure of the authors to mention war (or what I like to call "the war system") as a reason for the rise of patriarchy during the transition from mostly hunter-gatherer societies to agriculture ones. Before there were storehouses of grain and large settled communities, the profits of war were meager. Once war became a viable occupation, men increased their power over women. Indeed the current religions of the Middle East, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, are all warlike and patriarchal. So indeed, the authors do help uncover the true roles of women in the prehistory for those of us who had any doubt. However, whether women went on the Big Hunt or not, or whether men ever acted as "midwives" (which the authors identify as the real "oldest profession") is of secondary importance to the fact of hunting and midwifery. --Dennis Littrell, author of “Understanding Evolution and Ourselves”

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I have always been fascinated by human evolution and the mysteries of the prehistoric era. I think this field of study that pieces together rare clues and proposes possible narratives appeals to my imagination. The vast bulk of the human story is unrecorded, and, as the authors of The Invisible Sex point out, the prehistory pieced together by paleoanthropologists has overlooked the important role that females played in the evolution of humanity and the technological and social development of our I have always been fascinated by human evolution and the mysteries of the prehistoric era. I think this field of study that pieces together rare clues and proposes possible narratives appeals to my imagination. The vast bulk of the human story is unrecorded, and, as the authors of The Invisible Sex point out, the prehistory pieced together by paleoanthropologists has overlooked the important role that females played in the evolution of humanity and the technological and social development of our species. The Invisible Sex is a collective work by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer, and Jake Page, and their premise is that the once male-dominated world of paleoanthropologists and archeologists largely left women's prehistory unconsidered and unexplored. Unearthing stone spearheads and knives naturally made scientists create the narrative of man the hunter, and women were mere afterthoughts necessary for reproduction. As the researchers who authored the book go on to demonstrate, an unbiased or liberated view of the evidence shows that females contributed significantly to human evolution, language development, social development, and technological advances. Review continues at my blog Her Ladyship's Quest

  7. 4 out of 5

    K.

    Trigger warnings: death, some...uncomfortable...terminology is used to refer to LGBTQIA+ people (the book was published in 2007 and it shows) Look, this book was FINE. But at the same time, I think the subtitle is misleading in the extreme. Because really, this book is just a popular (i.e. non-academic) discussion of early human ancestors and the social developments of early Homo sapiens. As the authors say early on, there's not a lot of evidence for women in the archaeological record through pre Trigger warnings: death, some...uncomfortable...terminology is used to refer to LGBTQIA+ people (the book was published in 2007 and it shows) Look, this book was FINE. But at the same time, I think the subtitle is misleading in the extreme. Because really, this book is just a popular (i.e. non-academic) discussion of early human ancestors and the social developments of early Homo sapiens. As the authors say early on, there's not a lot of evidence for women in the archaeological record through prehistory, purely because the types of things that women created were largely fibre-based and therefore don't survive unlike the stone tools used by men. What the book DOES do is argues against the caveman image that is so often presented of early human life, but it doesn't necessarily focus on the true roles of women so much as reminding people that women existed during prehistory. There's a huge chunk of the book that discusses the biology of women's pelvises and how it relates to childbirth and, like...WHY? Sure, mention it in passing, but don't devote page after page to it. So as a discussion of early human ancestors, it served as a nice refresher to what I learnt in first year archaeology at university. But in terms of actually containing what the subtitle implies? Kiiiiind of a fail.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ivi

    I was really interested in the subject of the book (the role of women in pre-history), but it is written in such a feminazi tone that it makes for an annoying read. It's written by anthropologists (and maybe one archeologist) so it has lots of really neat facts, but I wish the tone was less aggressive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Embry

    Imagine a world in which all the inventors, the artists, the leaders you had been taught were men were actually – women? What if one of humanity’s greatest inventions was as simple as – a piece of string? That’s the world scientists J. M. Adovasio and Olga Soffer (with help from science writer Jake Page) ask readers in The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory. Adovasio, Soffer and Page don’t claim women did all the heavy lifting of prehistory. But, if we have little dir Imagine a world in which all the inventors, the artists, the leaders you had been taught were men were actually – women? What if one of humanity’s greatest inventions was as simple as – a piece of string? That’s the world scientists J. M. Adovasio and Olga Soffer (with help from science writer Jake Page) ask readers in The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory. Adovasio, Soffer and Page don’t claim women did all the heavy lifting of prehistory. But, if we have little direct evidence of women’s contributions to our early development, we also have little evidence that those contributions were made by men. What we do know is that scientists in male-dominated fields tend to think like, well, men. The trio behind The Invisible Sex ask us to think, for a brief time at least, like women. The results are fascinating, beginning with an early discussion of the need for female cooperation in birthing the babies of the species. The opening chapters trace humanity’s rise from apelike ancestors to the earliest members of the genus Homo (a name whose very meaning, “man”, has set the tone for so much of the thinking about our origins). Obviously, the major irrefutable fact known about the contributions of females, even before these females became anything we would call women, is that they birthed the babies of the species. Certainly, I was aware that childbirth is a strenuous and tricky process for both mother and baby, But I hadn’t thought about how much female cooperation the process must have involved. Or about the implications of such cooperation on the social structure of early human – even prehuman societies. “Women are the only primates in whom the baby emerges facing the rear. . . the tendency for human babies to be born facing the mother’s back has made human mothers the only primates – indeed, the only animals – that seek and get assistance in the birth process. It is possible, of course, for a woman to have her baby by herself, and it is even considered a cultural ideal in certain cultures. . . (but) an ideal that is apparently quite rarely achieved. . . ” Lest readers be left more squeamish than fascinated, the narrative picks up considerably once it arrives at the material on which Adovasio and Soffer are among the world’s experts – basket making, weaving and, yes, string. These materials seldom appear in excavations because of their perishable nature. But continuing archaeological investigations have exposed ancient evidence or such materials – sometimes preserved in favorable situations, but often indirect. Enter a second direct evidence of woman’s work recorded on the famous “Venuses,” the supposedly nude images found carved in stone and ivory across the length and breadth of prehistoric Europe. “What escaped many observers, both male and female, for many years was that some of these figurines were party clad,” note the authors of The Invisible Sex. “. . . (one) did have hair, it seemed, braided and wrapped around her head. Others had little bits of decorations – body bands, bracelets, minor bits and pieces of material of some sort. . . ” When Adovasio and Soffer looked more closely, they found that the braids supposed to represent hair were actually a well-known basketry pattern. “Nude” Venus wore a hat! Closer inspection of the supposedly merely decorative lines on other carvings also revealed them to be twisted and knotted – belts, straps, even string skirts. And if women were wearing hats and clothes, it’s likely that they were also manufacturing the garments. And twining the threads and weaving the fabric, long before the commonly accepted dates for plant domestication. I could happily have read an entire book on the basketry and fiber issues (and maybe I’ll have to explore some of Advasio’s and Soffer’s other books), and skipped some of the earlier chapters of this one. And although Page’s contribution has undoubtedly smoothed some of the academic-speak of the scientific authors, the results are not always as felicitous as a lay reader might wish. In all, however, a fascinating look at a too-little explored aspect of becoming human.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca A.

    A rather chatty overview of the current state of archaeology and prehistory. Discusses the difference between a male and a man, or a female and a woman, how the one term is biological, and the other is cultural. Re-thinks the Goddess Principle promoted by Gimbuta and others, mainly because it's darn hard to know what ancient people thought about certain symbols, not to mention how they actually worshipped. How we now have the technology to look for fibers--string, rope, weaving, etc.--in ancient s A rather chatty overview of the current state of archaeology and prehistory. Discusses the difference between a male and a man, or a female and a woman, how the one term is biological, and the other is cultural. Re-thinks the Goddess Principle promoted by Gimbuta and others, mainly because it's darn hard to know what ancient people thought about certain symbols, not to mention how they actually worshipped. How we now have the technology to look for fibers--string, rope, weaving, etc.--in ancient sites, and how such traces outnumber stone and metal tools. Discusses if men or women were responsible for such work, also reflects on what we currently know about certain tribal practices in that regard. This book gave me a chuckle because I'd never thought about the difference between cultivating and domesticating a crop. Now I know!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    This book starts off slow, examining the evidence to date on the first humans, and showing just how little of it offers any objective clue as to the roles of men or women. For much of the book, speculations concerning early gender roles are systematically exposed as sheer speculation. Then as the evidence from prehistoric cultures expands, the authors engage in an increasing fascinating discussion, comparing findings and theories from across the world. The authors' combined expertise in both Old This book starts off slow, examining the evidence to date on the first humans, and showing just how little of it offers any objective clue as to the roles of men or women. For much of the book, speculations concerning early gender roles are systematically exposed as sheer speculation. Then as the evidence from prehistoric cultures expands, the authors engage in an increasing fascinating discussion, comparing findings and theories from across the world. The authors' combined expertise in both Old and New World archaeology offers helpful insights into the roles women have played in early societies. The authors carefully avoid exaggerating the powers of either gender, as they illuminate both the achievements and hardships of our founding mothers.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gretta

    While certainly thought provoking and written in a fun irreverent voice, The Invisible Sex is exceptionally broad. This is probably necessary, since it deals with the Loooong stretch of prehistory around the globe. Because of this, the books has to devote a lot of time to context and less time than I would have liked to supporting their arguments. That being said, the book offers important lessons about how our current social structures influence our reading of the archeological record regarding While certainly thought provoking and written in a fun irreverent voice, The Invisible Sex is exceptionally broad. This is probably necessary, since it deals with the Loooong stretch of prehistory around the globe. Because of this, the books has to devote a lot of time to context and less time than I would have liked to supporting their arguments. That being said, the book offers important lessons about how our current social structures influence our reading of the archeological record regarding sex and gender.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    I found the content of the book interesting but was greatly disappointed when I finished that it did not address the subject of their subtitle sufficiently.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    An entertaining read about what could otherwise be a less than riveting subject. Very well written and explained. I’ll bet this professor gave great lectures at the university.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Riversue

    I was not convinced by all the arguments but I found it refreshing to have a book looking at women in prehistory.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Trena

    I love the premise of this book, which is to challenge the immutable image of prehistoric man striding confidently after dangerous prey while prehistoric woman timidly cowers behind him. This image appears in countless illustrations, movies, and dioramas--but is there any basis for it at all? The authors only have what they have to work with, so I will spare you the read and give you the short answer: no, there is no basis for this idea. There is also no basis for NOT this idea. We know pretty m I love the premise of this book, which is to challenge the immutable image of prehistoric man striding confidently after dangerous prey while prehistoric woman timidly cowers behind him. This image appears in countless illustrations, movies, and dioramas--but is there any basis for it at all? The authors only have what they have to work with, so I will spare you the read and give you the short answer: no, there is no basis for this idea. There is also no basis for NOT this idea. We know pretty much nothing at all, although it's likely that women invented agriculture. The first half (or more) of the book covers the evolutionary history of the bipeds that eventually became homo sapiens, which I had never read much about before. Very interesting to read the compensations and sacrifices humans made for our large brains. Unfortunately, it was released too soon to integrate the latest research showing that neanderthals did not so much go extinct as interbreed with humans to the point where they no longer existed as a separate species. The second half covers prehistory and protohistory and contains a lot of interesting archaeological tidbits. The format of the book is a little weird. It is written by three authors, two prehistory experts and a science writer, and they break the fourth wall periodically throughout the book in a way that doesn't really add anything. The writing style also gets a little casual at times, which detracts from its credibility as a piece of science writing.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Discussions on the role of gender in the physical evolution and cultural development of the human species are often extensions of current political and sociological debates, and so they are heavily colored by the biases and agendas of the participants. The authors seek to put the question of gender--specifically, the role of women--in human development back into its historical and archaeological context. They try to fill in the gaps in the record by looking at gender issues in their particular h Discussions on the role of gender in the physical evolution and cultural development of the human species are often extensions of current political and sociological debates, and so they are heavily colored by the biases and agendas of the participants. The authors seek to put the question of gender--specifically, the role of women--in human development back into its historical and archaeological context. They try to fill in the gaps in the record by looking at gender issues in their particular historical and geographic settings, rather than making broad generalizations that may or may not apply to specific instances, while at the same time emphasizing that gender roles--when they can be identified at all--were not necessarily clear-cut but saw much overlap between the sexes. More importantly, in downplaying the stereotype of "man the hunter", the authors don't glamorize or elevate the role of women in prehistoric societies, but instead demonstrate that it was constantly in flux and depended much on the outside forces, such as climate change, that had a major impact on the development of the species. As they chronicle those innovations, such as weaving and agriculture, in which women most likely played a significant role, the authors detail not just how the inventions altered the experience of women in prehistoric life, but the ways in which the changes propelled the entire species forward.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ginger

    Full of fun facts and written in a very accessible way, but the story isn't told convincingly. Full of words like "apparently," "seemingly," "presumably," and "evidently" to help *prove* that women have gotten a bad (or no) wrap in our understanding of prehistory. Some sentences just flat out kill the argument: "Apparently women created agriculture, but we'll probably never know for sure." I was frustrated with the stories that were intended to connect but then, after the fact, were more like ra Full of fun facts and written in a very accessible way, but the story isn't told convincingly. Full of words like "apparently," "seemingly," "presumably," and "evidently" to help *prove* that women have gotten a bad (or no) wrap in our understanding of prehistory. Some sentences just flat out kill the argument: "Apparently women created agriculture, but we'll probably never know for sure." I was frustrated with the stories that were intended to connect but then, after the fact, were more like random insertions. The up-side is that I do know more than I did before reading this: I know Lucy is deemed female only because her remains are small--there is no evidence that Lucy is a *she*; I know the currently accepted timeline of primate/homonid evolution...which apparently will change as soon as someone else finds another skull somewhere; and I know that anthropologists and archaeologists are making up most of this stuff and calling it science. Not a total disappointment, but I wish I had read something else in the one "fun reading" window I'll probably have until later this year.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jane Night

    This book was a little too in depth for casual reading. I like non fiction and I found the subject matter to be very interesting but I had trouble getting into the book. There was just too much information that didn’t seem important. Basically, the whole point of the book was to say that nothing can be said for certain about gender roles in prehistory because of a lack of clear evidence. Remains of prehistoric bodies are often not able to be positively identified as male or female. Weapons and too This book was a little too in depth for casual reading. I like non fiction and I found the subject matter to be very interesting but I had trouble getting into the book. There was just too much information that didn’t seem important. Basically, the whole point of the book was to say that nothing can be said for certain about gender roles in prehistory because of a lack of clear evidence. Remains of prehistoric bodies are often not able to be positively identified as male or female. Weapons and tools which are assumed to be used almost exclusively by men stand the test of time better than fabrics which are assumed to be women’s domain. Items being used by a particular gender can not even be certain. The gender roles are assumed based on current culture. When archaeology first became a thing it was men who dominated the field and according to the book put a male slant on history. The increase of women in the field is just now opening the way for questioning of the gender based assumptions and male bias of old.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides

    This was somewhat speculative, as most paleoarchaeology is. But it was an interesting read. The authors discussed various misconceptions about humanity's ancestors, and what the archaeological record says about the role of women during humanity's early history. There was a discussion of how childbirth has changed as different members of the Homo genus appeared that I thought was interesting. Pagan types reading this might be interested in doing a Google search for Hedu'Anna; she was the chief pr This was somewhat speculative, as most paleoarchaeology is. But it was an interesting read. The authors discussed various misconceptions about humanity's ancestors, and what the archaeological record says about the role of women during humanity's early history. There was a discussion of how childbirth has changed as different members of the Homo genus appeared that I thought was interesting. Pagan types reading this might be interested in doing a Google search for Hedu'Anna; she was the chief priestess of the moon god in Ur. (Oh, and for those of you who've read Snow Crash, she was an en. She's possibly the first named woman and first named poet in the historical record.)

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I really enjoyed this book. The narrative was talkative instead of straight lecturing, and it emphasizes repeatedly the fact that most of the "truths" we hold about our past are based on recent conceptions of gender roles and society. It questions the image we've painted of our cave painter ancestors and provides a lot of very interesting research on the few remains of our past. It also makes me question why such black and white pictures of prehistory life are still being taught in schools. It's I really enjoyed this book. The narrative was talkative instead of straight lecturing, and it emphasizes repeatedly the fact that most of the "truths" we hold about our past are based on recent conceptions of gender roles and society. It questions the image we've painted of our cave painter ancestors and provides a lot of very interesting research on the few remains of our past. It also makes me question why such black and white pictures of prehistory life are still being taught in schools. It's as if we're trying to shape our past into something it may have been but really, it's as likely as Harry Potter being a true story. A fascinating read, especially when written by two men and a woman.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Fishface

    This is a great one. It's delightfully well written, for one thing, not dry at all and pleasantly tongue-in-cheek at many points. Not only confronts the question of sexism in archaeology, but discusses what we can and cannot (yet?) know about prehistoric women. Clears away all the wrongheaded assumptions we're used to seeing in books of this sort. Discusses, not just the authors' theories, but just about everyone else's on this subject. Goes into intriguing tangents about the possibility that so This is a great one. It's delightfully well written, for one thing, not dry at all and pleasantly tongue-in-cheek at many points. Not only confronts the question of sexism in archaeology, but discusses what we can and cannot (yet?) know about prehistoric women. Clears away all the wrongheaded assumptions we're used to seeing in books of this sort. Discusses, not just the authors' theories, but just about everyone else's on this subject. Goes into intriguing tangents about the possibility that some of us alive today may be part Homo erectus, and the slipperiness of deciding at what point an animal becomes domesticated. The sort of book that leads you into all sorts of new directions. Great companion volume for the equally wonderful THE DESCENT OF WOMAN by Elaine Morgan.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jasmine

    While this book was an amazing overview of women in prehistory, I was somewhat disappointed by one thing. This is feminist archaeology. I expected the language to be more open about genders outside the binary. One awful time, it referred to gender identities as, and I quote, "women, men, and gays." Gay is not a gender identity, it is a sexual orientation. While it does mention different transexual identities several times, this book would have been better with a more open view of gender and a mo While this book was an amazing overview of women in prehistory, I was somewhat disappointed by one thing. This is feminist archaeology. I expected the language to be more open about genders outside the binary. One awful time, it referred to gender identities as, and I quote, "women, men, and gays." Gay is not a gender identity, it is a sexual orientation. While it does mention different transexual identities several times, this book would have been better with a more open view of gender and a more progressive vocabulary dealing with it. Considering it was published in 2007, I am disappointed. Other than that, I did learn a lot.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Beli_grrl

    This is fascinating. I expected it to be dry and academic, but it's actually a very readable, even witty, prose. There are lots of interesting updates on what is going on in contemporary archeology, with the role of the woman in prehistory as the central, but not the only, consideration. In rethinking women's roles', mens' roles are also expanded. I think a better title would have been Gender in Prehistory. Obviously someone at the publisher felt a title mentioning women specifically would sell This is fascinating. I expected it to be dry and academic, but it's actually a very readable, even witty, prose. There are lots of interesting updates on what is going on in contemporary archeology, with the role of the woman in prehistory as the central, but not the only, consideration. In rethinking women's roles', mens' roles are also expanded. I think a better title would have been Gender in Prehistory. Obviously someone at the publisher felt a title mentioning women specifically would sell better. This is a tiny quibble with a very good book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pancha

    I was afraid this was going to be a Gimbutas-like version of prehistory, but it is actually a really even-handed review of what we know about prehistoric people, with a particular focus on trying to suss out things about females and women (they make a distinction between biological sex and cultural gender).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julia T.

    These anthropologists and a former editor of Natural History point to a larger role for women of prehistory than usually attributed. The invention of language, the beginning of agriculture, and the development of boat-building, cooking, and weaving are several key contributions credited to prehistoric women.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maxine

    Readable, fast-paced, and a valuable corrective to male (and female) focused views of human evolution. The sections on "deep time" are less interesting than parts illustrating recognizable humans, but perhaps this reader is simply too human-focused.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    A cluttered incomprehensible mess. 25% of it is spent illustrating dead-end theories that have no relevance to the title. It isn't until over halfway through the book that the authors feel 'prehistory' has been established enough to begin exploring the subject of their own book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tiffy L.

    Only got through the 1st 20 pages cause the format utterly sucked. They kept bouncing to different scenes, and they only vaguely discussed the subject of the book, that in the beginning, the authors adamantly said they were going to discuss.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ambica Rajagopal

    Great read. Rethinks prehistory and tires to answer the questions " where were the women for all those years ??". Eye-opening.

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