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Women, Men and Mobility: Understanding Gender Inequality in Prehistory

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WOMAM (Women, Men and Mobility: Understanding Gender Inequality in Prehistory)

Periodo di rendicontazione: 2021-05-15 al 2022-05-14

The overall objective of the project WOMAM was to contribute to understanding the origin of gender inequality by integrating ethnographic and archaeological data, and by focusing on residential patterns and mobility. As mentioned in the proposal of the project, the hypothesis was that female residential mobility played a central role in the emergence and consolidation of gender differences and inequality since the Neolithic.
Although the issue of social inequality has traditionally been a key theme in Anthropology and Archaeology, gender inequality has received less consideration. At a time when Feminism is clearly experiencing major advances both within and outside academia, the interest on issues related to gender inequality is high. Gender and gender inequality can no longer be analyzed as independent elements of social development, but must be addressed as central categories to truly understand early social processes. Tackling gender inequalites an understanding of the social and cultural conditions that give rise to gender differences in both the present and past by comparing the lives and experiences of women and men, and other potential genders in non-binary systems.

Specifically, the project is structured around three scientific research objectives:
1. Analyzing the linkage between residential patterns and gender inequality in ethnographically documented non-state societies.
2. Determining the residential patterns of Late Prehistoric Iberia.
3. Establishing whether Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age societies of Iberia were patrilocal or matrilocal and whether mobility played a central role in the origin and development of gender inequality.

Through the project, some propositions in the form of conclusions can be outlined for each of these objectives, although it does not mean that the research is over. Briefly, these conclusions are:
1. Cross-cultural studies based on data from ethnographically documented non-state societies shows a clear linkage between residential patterns and gender inequality. When residential patterns are male-centered the status of women tend to be worse than if residential patterns are female-centered. This does not imply necessarily a correlation, but the tendency does exist.
2. With the current evidence at hand, determining of the residential patterns of Late Prehistoric Iberia is uncertain and requires more data. The project has, however, contributed greatly to this issue by generating more data on Sr isotopes, especially from Copper Age individuals, although there are still relevant gaps in the availability of data to answer properly this question.
3. According to both the data compiled and new analyses performed, during the Neolithic no single residential pattern appears to have existed in Iberia. Isotopic data for non-local women and non-local men are very similar between c. 5500 and 3200 BC. However, in the Chalcolithic (3200–2300 BC) the mobility of people increased and females seem to have been more mobile than males, which could be related to a bilocal residential pattern biased to patrilocality, especially in the so-called mega-sites. In the Bronze Age (2300-850 BC) mobility experienced a decrease, but the data available are still very scarce and no general propositions can be made.
The project has been completed between 15/05/2020 and 3/9/2022. The work carried out has focused on i) the compilation of available data, both ethnographic and archaeological, ii) establishment of collaboration with researchers and museum staff, iii) sampling of new individuals in order to obtain new data, iv) training, and v) dissemination.

In the framework of the project, all available Sr data for Copper Age and Bronze Age Iberia have been compiled. Data for the Neolithic are currently in the process of being fully incorporated into the database. Ethnographic information has also been examined through the D-Place database and HRAF. Collaborations have been established with researchers from United States, Spain, Norway, United Kingdom, Portugal and Austria.

In the framework of the project 2 different type of analyses have been undertaken. First, new Sr data for a large number of individuals (n=73) from 3 major sites of the late 4th and 3rd millennia BC have been obtained: Humanejos (Madrid) (n=35), Valencina (Seville) (n=30) and Piedras Blancas (Málaga) (n=8), which represent a significant increase in the available information for Iberia. Second, a new technique to determine the sex of individuals - the analyses of peptides in dental enamel - has been applied to a number of samples whose Sr ratios had been previously analysed by other researchers. A very high percentage of the available Sr data could not be linked to sex information, which make the data useless for the aims of this specific project. Because of that we tried to get the sex of each sample, applying the mentioned technique. The results have been very positive, and at the time of writing this report samples have already been taken and analyzed, or are in the process of being analyzed, from the sites of Valencina (Seville) (n=48) and Piedras Blancas (n=8), while there is a collaboration in progress to analyse the teeth whose Sr values were previously obtained from the site of Perdigões (Évora).

In addition to these analyses, the researcher has trained herself in the use of the HRAF and D-Place databases, in Sr isotope analyses and in the processing of samples for C14 dating. She has also taught some courses on European Prehistory, Prehistory of Iberia and Universal Prehistory in the bachelor’s degree on History and Archaeology in the U. of Seville (Spain). Finally, the project has been disseminated through different channels: a newspaper report, a radio program, the European Researchers Night (2020, 2021 and 2022 editions), the EAA Congress, two virtual seminars organized by the Dept. of Anthropology of the U. of Iowa (United States) and the laboratory of Prehistory of the U. of Coimbra (Portugal), a seminar in the U. of Seville, an education project for Primary and Secondary School (‘JOIN US’), or a workshop in Rome funded by Wenner Gren Foundation, among others.
Combining ethnographic and archaeological data has been demonstrated to have potential to the study of human remains, as well the applications of new techniques (sex determination through peptides).

In the framework of the project, results include:

i) Compiling the available information, previously scattered in a number of publications.
ii) Obtaining high quality evidence for four major late prehistoric sites: Humanejos, Valencina, Piedras Blancas and Perdigões.
iii) Providing a theoretical framework to analyze residential patterns in Prehistory using cross-cultural data.
iv) Offering an interpretation of residential patterns during late prehistoric Iberia.

The achievement of these objectives helps us to understand the relationship between social complexity, residential patterns and gender differences and/or inequality in other regions of the world. In addition, the project has led to a substantially improved picture of residental mobility and gender inequalities within the selected case study: Iberian Late Prehistory. A better understanding of how these variables relate to each other is undoubtedly of interest to both researchers and the general public insofar as it contributes to understanding the processes of differentiation and/or inequality between men and women.
Illustration of the webpage of the project
Participation in the workshop 'Women and Archaeology in the Canary Islands"
Sampling individuals from Humanejos in Alcalá de Henares Museum
Conference in a seminar, Department of Prehistory and Archaeology, University of Sevilla
Screenshot of the webpage of the project JOIN US, for Primary and Secondary School