Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hard evidence on the emergence of patriarchy?

The May 2017 issue of the Scientific American has a story "Of Meat and Men: Ancient Bones may hold clues to the origin of male domination in society".  Following the breadcrumbs leads to this:

"Shifting diets and the rise of male-biased inequality on the Central Plains of China during Eastern Zhou"

Farming domesticated millets, tending pigs, and hunting constituted the core of human subsistence strategies during Neolithic Yangshao (5000–2900 BC). Introduction of wheat and barley as well as the addition of domesticated herbivores during the Late Neolithic (∼2600–1900 BC) led to restructuring of ancient Chinese subsistence strategies. This study documents a dietary shift from indigenous millets to the newly introduced cereals in northcentral China during the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771–221 BC) based on stable isotope analysis of human and animal bone samples. Our results show that this change affected females to a greater degree than males. We find that consumption of the newly introduced cereals was associated with less consumption of animal products and a higher rate of skeletal stress markers among females. We hypothesized that the observed separation of dietary signatures between males and females marks the rise of male-biased inequality in early China. We test this hypothesis by comparing Eastern Zhou human skeletal data with those from Neolithic Yangshao archaeological contexts. We find no evidence of male–female inequality in early farming communities. The presence of male-biased inequality in Eastern Zhou society is supported by increased body height difference between the sexes as well as the greater wealth of male burials.
Or, in the words of the Scientific American:
"The bone chemistry indicates that male and female diets were similar during the Neolithic period, which started about 10,000 years ago and in which agriculture began. Both sexes ate meat and grains. "During early farming, females contributed a lot to food production. [Men and women] ate the same things, and they're of more or less equal standing,"  says Kate Pechenkina, an archaeologist at Queens College, City University of New York, and senior author on the paper.

"The menu shift began at the end of the Neolithic and continued through the Bronze Age, often estimated to have begun in China around 1700 BC.  People there increasingly planted wheat, which leaves a carbon signature distinct from that of the millet they had already been growing.  The osteoanalysis shows that between 771 and 221 BC men continued eating millet and meat—but the latter disappeared from women's diets and was replaced with wheat.   Women's bones also began showing cribra orbitalia, a type of osteoporosis and an indicator of childhood malnutrition. "It means already from early childhood, young girls are treated poorly," Pechenkina says.
Very interesting work.  The one thing that bothers me is the compression of the time scale in the commentary.  1900 BC is the most late date for the introduction of wheat; 1700 BC is the date for the beginning of the Bronze Age in China; and the diet shift for women occurred almost a thousand years later.