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Queens of the Stone Age ~ Stone-Age Clothing

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rockessence
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« on: March 25, 2007, 09:01:51 pm »

Queens of the Stone Age

People think they understand exactly how prehistoric women lived, even
though these notions often turn out to be more cartoon than reality.
"The Invisible Sex: Uncovering the True Roles of Women in Prehistory,"
by J.M. Adovasio, Olga Soffer and Jake Page, promises to lay out
everything the most current research has established about archaic
women. The authors can point out some embarrassing mistakes made by past
experts and suggest some intriguing alternative interpretations of
various facts and artifacts.
     The truth is that we can prove very, very little about how
prehistoric people organized their social groups, especially when it
comes to sex roles. One of the unsettling revelations in "The Invisible
Sex" is that Lucy - the famous Australopithecus afarensis whose 3.3
million-year-old fossilized remains were discovered in Ethiopia, could
possibly be a Luke instead. The leader of the expedition who found 'her'
says that the identification of the remains as female is not much more
than an educated - and possibly biased - guess, based on the relative
smallness of the bones.
     Great apes like the chimpanzees enjoy a short, relatively easy
childbirth because their wide pelvises can easily accommodate their
infants' small skulls. In humans, all the advantages of having a bigger
skull and brain collide with the advantage of the small pelvis that
makes our speedy bipedalism possible. "Women are the only primates in
which the baby is born facing the rear," the authors explain, and this
in turn makes them the only animals that "seek and get assistance in the
birth process." The human need for midwives, and the improved survival
rate in the offspring of women who enlisted them, would have selected
for the 'special sociability' of human beings in general and human
females in particular, the authors suggest. Perhaps the exchange of
midwifery services can even be seen as the basis for the evolution of
human society beyond a nuclear family.
     In a particularly winning example of the value of a shift in
perspective, Adovasio and Soffer made a study of such stone figurines as
the famous Venus of Willendorf, generally considered to be a fertility
totem of some kind created roughly 25,000 years ago. While the bulging
breasts and belly of the statuette attract the most attention, Adovasio
and Soffer instead examined the back of the head, which is covered with
what most observers have identified as braids or a headdress. The
authors maintain that it is in fact "a woven hat, a radially hand-woven
item of apparel." The authors go on to point out that, while the figure
is faceless and generally - if carefully - rendered, the hat is, by
contrast, extremely detailed.

It is intricate enough that it could possibly have been used as a pattern for making such hats. What the Venus of Willendorf's hat (and similar headgear on other statuettes)
might mean remains undetermined, but surely the sum of anthropological
knowledge has been increased by someone pointing out that it seems to
have been very important to the carver. A professor named Elizabeth
Wayland Barber has asked fellow scholars to consider the significance of
string, a technological development that "had profound effects on human
destiny - probably more profound effects than any advance in the
technique of making spear points, knives, scrapers and other tools out
of stone." Try to imagine getting along without it, and without "snares
and fishlines, tethers and leashes, carrying nets, handles and packages,
not to mention a way of binding objects together to form more complex
tools." The skilled work involved in making these technologies, which
most people associate with women, were absolutely essential.
     The scientists of generations past had a fixation on the idea of
prehistoric man as a mighty hunter, working in teams to bring down
large, dangerous animals like mammoth and bison. This sort of fairy
tale, "appear now to be mythmaking on the part of the
paleoanthropological community," they explain. Although meat eating was
indeed a significant aspect of prehistoric life, many anthropologists
now believe most of the meat was scavenged or came from small animals
rather than large game. Solo hunters of small game need not have been
male, but bagging small prey one by one wouldn't have been very
efficient. Catching many of them at once became possible with the use of
large woven nets. Net hunting it's a group activity, with everyone,
including children, participating in beating the bushes, holding the
nets and clubbing the prey. Every member of the community plays a
crucial role in this form of meat gathering, including the people, often
women, who make and repair the nets. In the opinion of the authors of
"The Invisible Sex," this hunter-gatherer lifestyle was most likely a
more sexually egalitarian sort of community than the agricultural ones
that followed.
     Many paleoanthropologists believe that women began the
domestication of wild plants while men were probably responsible for the
domestication of animals. The invention of agriculture made the glories
of human civilization possible, but it was not such a good deal for
women or anyone else who wound up on the bottom rungs of increasingly
hierarchical societies. Remains of women from Neolithic agricultural
communities show that they worked harder and suffered more malnutrition
than their hunter-gatherer ancestresses. Populations exploded when the
availability of "soft carbohydrate weaning foods" meant that women
stopped lactating sooner after a birth and therefore got pregnant more
often.

Source: Salon.com (21 March 2007)
http://tinyurl.com/2mqx8a



Stone Age clothing more advanced than thought

By Gloria Chang, February 3, 2000

Think of life for women in the Stone Age and you've probably got them in crudely fashioned dresses made of animal skin, perhaps being dragged across the cave floor by their hair. Or hovered over a hot fire tending to a dinner of mastodon or mammoth. Now think finely woven hats, belts and skirts - and a place in the highest echelons of society. That's what a new discovery tells us about women and their clothes in the upper Paleolithic.
"It all began when we discovered and studied impressions of textiles and basketry and nets on little pieces of hard clay," explains Olga Soffer, an archeologist at the University of Illinois. "We saw an enormous diversity in loom-weaving, including plain weave, twining, and a good deal of basketry as well as nets." 
 
 

The signs of the sophisticated weaving technologies were found on over 90 pieces of clay in the Czech Republic dated at about 27,000 years ago. That makes them the earliest evidence of weaving. It was previously assumed that weaving didn't come about until 5,000 to 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic period.

Soffer then compared the clay pieces to the so-called "Venus" figurines, which are also dated to about the same time, about 25,000 years ago.

"It suddenly struck us that what we were looking at under the microscope on these little fragments was precisely what was being shown as clothing on some of these 'naked ladies'."

 
Venus of Predmosti, found in France.

 
map showing where the Venuses have been found.   
 
After careful study, she and her team identified fine detailing showing different weaving methods. And different items of clothing depending on which part of Europe the Venus figurines came from. Those from western Europe were adorned with basket hats or caps, belts worn at the waist and what Soffer calls a bandeau - a strap of cloth that wrapped around the body right above the breast. Eastern European women wore belts, hung low on the hips and sometimes string skirts.

Though there's no one single meaning to the Venus women, they are very well-known, especially for their large breasts and full stomachs depicting pregnancy. Up until now, the ones that did have clothing, were thought to have elaborate hairdos rather than hats, or tattoos on their bodies.


 Venus of Kostenki. Tummy shows the woven belt (left) and head shows the woven hat.
 
"We always sort of noticed them, we just considered them secondary in importance, saying maybe they're hairdos, maybe they're tattoos without anyone ever really sitting down and studying them," offers Soffer as an explanation as to why no one had noticed that they might be clothing.

Finding the same weaving technologies depicted on the Venus women, who most probably wore them in rituals, rather than as everyday wear, also tells Soffer that women associated with weaving probably held a high position in society.

"We know from the textile impressions that the weaving can be very very fine. We know the fine weaving takes a lot of time," says Soffer. "What the Venus figurines is telling us, is that this technology of making clothes was important enough to be immortalized in stone.

A lot of us suppose that if it's important enough to be in iconography, it is very important in those societies, likely giving these women positions of status."

Soffer and her team have also found some tools made of bone and ivory of about the same age. Although they are still working on the tools, they appear to be net gauges, spindle needles and weaving sticks.
 
 
« Last Edit: March 25, 2007, 09:05:00 pm by rockessence » Report Spam   Logged

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