The role of women in the Stone Age ... quite different than previously thought. (Part 2/2: The view of anthropology)
The constant strain on certain muscles and joints leaves its mark on the skeleton. Depending on how much a certain bone is stressed and where it is located, osteoarthritis can be traced back to a certain activity. Now assuming women who gather and men who hunt, there should also be different traces of activity in their skeletons. Researchers found that people of hunter-gatherer societies have a high tendency to osteoarthritis and joint wear in the right upper arm, indicating the use of bows and arrows. This was found in both men and women, and no difference between the sexes was detected.
Enthesopathic changes can be observed in areas where muscles attach to the skeleton. The larger the muscles and the more frequently certain muscles are used or overused, the more pronounced the changes to the periosteum are.
In prehistoric populations changes of the periosteum at the right humerus have been identified to possibly relate to spear throwing, which requires a great deal of force. In this regard, some relevant differences between the sexes have been identified, where greater changes were found in males than females. This result could support the assumption that spear throwing was mainly a male activity. However, as the changes are relative to body and muscle size, and the research about enthesopathies still is ongoing, the implications of this result is still inconclusive. And even though it would be proven that men in general were more inclined to hunt with spears, that does not exclude the possibility that women nonetheless were hunters, although perhaps not necessarily with spears.
Exposure to violence
If women in early prehistory were more likely to spend their lives with children and close to camp, it could be assumed that they were also exposed to less violence than men. While not all wounds leave traces on the skeleton, anthropological evidence suggests that there is no significant difference between exposure to violence in early prehistoric women and men. Differences between groups have been demonstrated, but just not a general trend for all populations.
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