Becoming gendered in european prehistory: Was neolithic gender fundamentally different?

30 Nov 2018

It is notable how little gender archaeology has been written for the European Neolithic, in contrast to the following Bronze Age. We cannot blame this absence on a lack of empirical data or on archaeologists’ theoretical naïveté. Instead, we argue that this absence reflects the fact that gender in this period was qualitatively different in form from the types of gender that emerged in Europe from about 3000 cal BC onwards; the latter still form the norm in European and American contexts today, and our standard theories and methodologies are designed to uncover this specific form of gender. In Bronze Age gender systems, gender was mostly binary, associated with stable, lifelong identities expressed in recurrent complexes of gendered symbolism. In contrast, Neolithic gender appears to have been less firmly associated with personal identity and more contextually relevant; it slips easily through our methodological nets. In proposing this “contextual gender” model for Neolithic gender, we both open up new understandings of gender in the past and present and pose significant questions for our models of gender more widely.