Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Thousand Centuries of Patriarchy

A new explanation for the demise of the Neanderthals, the stockily built human species that occupied Europe until the arrival of modern humans 45,000 years ago, has been proposed by two anthropologists at the University of Arizona.

Unlike modern humans, who had developed a versatile division of labor between men and women, the entire Neanderthal population seems to have been engaged in a single main occupation, the hunting of large game, the scientists, Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner, say in an article posted online yesterday in Current Anthropology.

Because modern humans exploited the environment more efficiently, by having men hunt large game and women gather small game and plant foods, their populations would have outgrown those of the Neanderthals.
So the original sin was the division of labour. I wonder what Adam Smith would have thought. Or maybe the issue was really just workplace safety:
Hunting large game at close range is perilous, and Neanderthal skeletons bear copious fractures. Dr. Kuhn and Dr. Stiner argue that Neanderthal women and children took part in the dangerous hunts, probably as beaters and blockers of exit routes....

The meat of large animals yields a rich payoff, but even the best hunters have unlucky days. The modern humans of the Upper Paleolithic, with their division of labor and diversified food sources, would have been better able to secure a continuous food supply. Nor were they putting their reproductive core — women and children — at great risk.
See, maybe if we'd just developed kevlar and high-powered rifles first, we'd never have needed the gendered division of labour in the first place.

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