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Daily Life of Paleolithic Women

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  • Daily Life of Paleolithic Women

    Since the other thread has been hijacked... if anybody is interested in discussing what life was like for Paleolithic women, let's do it here.

    I don't know much about this subject so I won't post anything yet... I just want to encourage the discussion.

  • #2
    I'm gonna go look stuff up on this - but for a start, I bet it involved a lot of carrying small children, walking, and foraging activities, in addition to food preparation like drying, pounding stuff, stone-boiling, etc.

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    • #3
      I guess it would probably depend on the availability of different foodstuffs, which would be related to the climate, the terrain, and the time of year.

      In certain environments they'd probably have to spend some of their time foraging for food. In others, that can't have been needful. Vegetarians, when they deign to notice the past at all, seem to get all over-excited about the fact that women and children gathered food in some societies. (But, note, that would have meant small animals and insects as well as plants.) Well, depends on where you need to find your food, doesn't it? I never heard that among the old-time Inuit anyone had much to do with getting food from the wild but the adult males. I guess there's not much point in going out to gather, if anything you might gather is under snow and ice ...

      Lewis and Clark found the Shoshone women and children digging roots on the prairie:

      For the Lemhi Shoshonis of Cameahwait's band, August 11, 1805, had seemed like any other day in late summer. Groups of women and children were out on the prairies digging roots
      Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online* *

      But that wasn't so much from choice:

      Very interesting, Cameahwait replied, "with his ferce eyes and lank jaws grown meager for the want of food. . . . `If we had guns, we could then live in the country of buffaloe and eat as our enemies do and not be compelled to hide ourselves in these mountains and live on roots and berries as the bears do.'".
      Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online* *


      So I think it depends. They might be obtaining food. If not, they'd probably be the ones preparing it.

      I think they'd probably have spent a fair amount of time de-fleshing skins and preparing them, and making them into clothing, footwear, etc.

      Then there'd be children to look after and water to collect. They probably spent a fair amount of time socializing and chatting and perhaps playing games.

      On the whole, I think they probably worked harder than the men. The ethnographic parallels would seem to indicate that. I came across a reference in a memoir of a man of who'd been captured by North American Indians to the men sometimes marking a kill site and going home, sending the women to go and carry the kill in when they got back to camp. That surprised me, since I'd assumed hunters would always carry their own kills back -- unless we're talking about an animal so large as to need to be butchered in situ.

      Interestingly, in America some of the male white captives after returning to civilization seem to have been unable to shed the idea that women were there to do any work that needed doing. One used to go out shoot deer and leave the carcase on the doorstep: that was for his mother or sisters to clean and butcher in his mind:

      Amazon.com: The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier (9780312317898): Scott Zesch: Books

      The book Kabloona is quite interesting for the light it sheds on how men and women can be rather different in societies other than our own. It seems that sometimes an Inuit woman would take a fancy to a man other than her husband and might in time persuade such a man to kill her husband. Sometimes he'd take a bit of persuading. The men don't seem to have been unduly worried about gaining exclusive sexual access to a woman: so long as they had access, that seems to have been a satisfactory state of affairs to them. Astonishingly, sexual jealousy, which I guess we think of as universal, seems to have been absent among them. But some of the women seem to have been more interested on occasion in gaining an exclusive sexual relation -- even at the cost of provoking social discord. They also seem to have been -- I don't know how to put it -- more imaginative, less pedestrian, more discontented, more determined.
      Last edited by Lewis; 07-15-2012, 11:37 AM. Reason: spelling

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      • #4
        I've only ever loosely speculated on the difference in activities between primitive males and females (in regard to effort, endurance, speed, and movement), but I do note a possible daily difference in diet between primitive males and females, that - taken as a standard over millennia - could indeed have had an affect on how we might thrive differently by gender today.

        For example, if the women were (primarily) tasked with foraging for vegetable matter (fruits, vegetables, roots, grains, fungi, etc) and drying/storing/preparing their forage for current meals or future use, then it stands to reason that many days would include a fair amount of *grazing* on these foods, either as a common accepted addition to their daily diet as they worked or as (mostly vegetarian) meals while waiting on the men to get back from the hunt with new meat.

        Then if the men were (primarily) tasked with hunting/scavenging, it stands to reason that they spent days on their feet with little to no fresh food, maybe dry travel rations like pemican (high fat) followed by the final blowout of the hunt when they catch up to (or ambush) and kill their prey. After which they are likely to feast on the choicest parts of the kill (livers and hearts, etc) and butcher the rest to hump back home (possibly another journey of more than one day wherein they are subsisting primarily on fresh kill with little or no vegetation added to that).

        If these scenarios were indeed common among our ancestors over tens of thousands of years (even hundreds of thousands) I don't think it's an accident that LC/VLC works particularly well for men or that many women who find initial success on a primal/paleo diet eventually find they do better if they move toward a higher carb version of that diet. I don't think it's an accident that many men find fasting-followed-by-feasting techniques to be extremely effective in their diets over the long haul and many women find that grazing habits (on a whole-food paleoesque diet) serves them well over the long haul.

        Honestly, in general I think a body that thrives on lots of fresh vegetable matter will naturally seek to graze where a body that thrives on a big pile of fat and protein will then want a long, food-free rest before the next feeding. A close look at the habits of herbivores (cow, horses, great apes, etc) versus carnivores (wolves, lions, weasels, etc) will show similar patterns.

        I think the commonality that makes Primal/Paleo eating good for men and women together is the fact that it is based on whole foods and tends to eliminate or limit things that might still be considered whole foods but that would not have been widely available in a primitive diet (yes, they ate grains, no they didn't get two loaves of wonder bread a week; yes legumes were a possibility, but not really worth the effort they required to harvest and prepare to eat every day in a primitive setting; honey was available, but no one had a bag of sugar in the cupboard year round, etc).

        Ultimately, I think each individual needs to explore different approaches after the first 30-90 days (to get clean from whatever level of industrial eating they were into before transitioning to Paleo/Primal) and see what really works best. And I do think there is a general trend of men benefitting from high protein, high fat, high (intense) but intermittent regimen of activity that also includes a regimen of fasting (again, after the first 30-90 days) and women (after the first 30-90 days) benefitting from high fat moderate protein moderate to high (primal/paleo)* carb intake eaten on a more regular/frequent schedule with more regular (rather than intermittent) activity that includes occasional bursts of intense activity.

        * For the record, I include roots, tubers, (read as white potatoes and such), etc to be among primal carbs and see no need to exclude them for anything other than active weight loss.

        Obviously, YMMV. I know plenty of women who thrive on full blown high fat, high meat, IF, intense workout versions of Paleo/Primal . . . the trend I see there is a commitment to both intensity and activity . . . and genetics/lifestyle/environment will all play a big roll in everyone's final results. The above is merely local observation and speculation on my part. In the end, I think it has to come down to n=1 for each of us. IMO, it's the folk that don't want to put in that personal experimental effort that ultimately have trouble with this lifestyle, because it really *isn't* one size fits all.
        Last edited by brahnamin; 07-15-2012, 12:10 PM. Reason: Edited to add bold/italics for easier reading - no content change.

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        • #5
          I think if women were doing their food gathering/preparing in a stationary group, there would have been a lot of socializing which in turn would educate the children. And children would have grown up learning how to do these tasks as a matter of course.

          In my area, the local tribes were described as the only 'fat Indians' the visiting explorers had ever seen. While a lot more recent than paleo, the pre-contact tribes still kept a lot of ancestral foodways, and this area is so rich with food no one had to work very hard to eat well. They had communal longhouses near productive salmon rivers, and temporary hunting/beach camps where appropriate. They hunted deer, dried salmon, , gathered copious seafood from the beaches, preserved berries in fish oil, ate foraged 'veggies', and also cultivated wild carrot. They burned and cleared small prairies and encouraged the carrots to spread by leaving plenty to reproduce. They also maintained clearings where deer liked to browse, to make hunting easier.

          When whites brought potatoes up the coast from South America, the tribes took to them right away since they were already familiar with growing root crops. Of course things went downhill from there, but it's interesting to read about a fairly stationary group of people living so well for so long.
          Seven Trees Farm - diversified subsistence farming on 1.25 acres.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by JBailey View Post
            I think if women were doing their food gathering/preparing in a stationary group, there would have been a lot of socializing which in turn would educate the children. And children would have grown up learning how to do these tasks as a matter of course.
            One interesting thing I remember from my linguistics class is that there are many cultures in which people never talk to infants. They don't speak to a child until the child begins to speak on its own. This is possible because the child is constantly surrounded by people talking to each other, so it is able to learn by overhearing.

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            • #7
              Archaeological evidence indicates that hunting and gathering were more evenly distributed than we assume - communal and not necessarily divided by gender:

              New Women of the Ice Age | Prehistoric Culture | DISCOVER Magazine

              That story broke in the late '90s and pops up in the news occasionally, but popular media clings to image of women sitting around surrounded by babies waiting for men to bring home the (mammoth) bacon. If you ask me, it makes a pretty good case for plenty of animal protein in everyone's diet as well.

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              • #8
                without any actual evidence, I've always been of the opinion that in small bands the need for the job to be done outweighed the gender of the person to do it. meaning everyone had importance to the group that went beyond stupid ideas of women's or men's work. if something needed doing and a person was capable of doing it and not otherwise occupied, that person probably just did it no matter what it was or who s/he was. Superfluous time and occupations were few, most likely, depending on climate.
                5' 9" 47 YO F
                PB start June 2, 2012
                Pre PB SW = 180 (no scale at home, Mom's scale January - 153lbs!)
                Current deadlift 245 lbs, squat 165 lbs, bench press 135 lbs


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                • #9
                  Originally posted by June68 View Post
                  without any actual evidence, I've always been of the opinion that in small bands the need for the job to be done outweighed the gender of the person to do it. meaning everyone had importance to the group that went beyond stupid ideas of women's or men's work. if something needed doing and a person was capable of doing it and not otherwise occupied, that person probably just did it no matter what it was or who s/he was. Superfluous time and occupations were few, most likely, depending on climate.
                  Never underestimate the power of prejudice and superstition to shape human decisions. From what I've read of uncontacted / minimally influenced HG groups, women had an awfully hard lot compared to guys.
                  If you are new to the PB - please ignore ALL of this stuff, until you've read the book, or at least http://www.marksdailyapple.com/primal-blueprint-101/ and this (personal fave): http://www.archevore.com/get-started/

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by gfprof View Post
                    Archaeological evidence indicates that hunting and gathering were more evenly distributed than we assume - communal and not necessarily divided by gender:

                    New Women of the Ice Age | Prehistoric Culture | DISCOVER Magazine

                    That story broke in the late '90s and pops up in the news occasionally, but popular media clings to image of women sitting around surrounded by babies waiting for men to bring home the (mammoth) bacon. If you ask me, it makes a pretty good case for plenty of animal protein in everyone's diet as well.
                    That was a great article thanks for posting it. I think it is difficult for our culture to fathom another way of living, one where there isn't such a distinction between genders and a division of labor. As I mentioned in the other thread there is plenty of evidence that humans scavenged a significant portion of their meat, both men and women would participate. Same with the netting of game; every one could help. Where we live the indigenous people used that method for catching fish.

                    My husband has found a considerable amount of stone tools in our area and a large portion of what he's found are knives and scraping tools very few arrow heads which leads him to believe that, like in the article much of the meat in our area was either scavenged or caught in nets.
                    Life is death. We all take turns. It's sacred to eat during our turn and be eaten when our turn is over. RichMahogany.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by tfarny View Post
                      Never underestimate the power of prejudice and superstition to shape human decisions. From what I've read of uncontacted / minimally influenced HG groups, women had an awfully hard lot compared to guys.
                      That's been the conclusion from my reading too. Really sad, and mystifying. Something about our species though I think.
                      Seven Trees Farm - diversified subsistence farming on 1.25 acres.

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                      • #12
                        I suggest you read The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. It is about her time with the Bushmen when they had had minimal contact with "civilization." And they live in Africa, admittedly not in an ice age, but their culture goes back before people started migrating out of Africa.
                        Ancestral Health Info - My blog about Primal and the general ancestral health movement. Site just remodeled using HTML5/CSS3 instead of Wordpress.

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                        • #13
                          There are some interesting 1st sources available. Full text of "The journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca and his companions from Florida to the Pacific, 1528-1536;" is the book, written in 1542 by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca who started out to explore North America near Tampa, Florida and spent 9 years, traveling as far as the Pacific Ocean before he was able to return to "civilization". This book was written as a report to his King, Charles V of Spain.
                          His expedition suffered greatly, of the 460 men that landed in Florida, 4 returned. He was frequently enslaved and starving so i think the HG tribes he encountered were not trying to impress him. While tribes varied, it was obviously a very hard life.

                          On the status of women:
                          The men do not carry burdens or loads,
                          the women and old men have to do it, for
                          those are the people they least esteem. They
                          have not as much love for their children as
                          those spoken of before. Some among them
                          are given to unnatural vices. The women
                          are compelled to do very hard work and in
                          a great many ways, for out of twenty-four
                          hours of day and night they get only six
                          hours' rest. They spend most of the night in
                          stirring the fire to dry those roots which
                          they eat, and at daybreak they begin to dig
                          and carry firewood and water to their
                          houses and attend to other necessary mat-
                          ters.
                          It is a custom of theirs to kill even their
                          own children for the sake of dreams, and
                          the girls when newly born they throw away
                          to be eaten by dogs. The reason why they
                          do it is (as they say) that all the others of
                          that country are their enemies with whom
                          they are always at war, and should they
                          marry their daughters they might multiply
                          so much as to be able to overcome them and
                          reduce them to slavery. Hence they prefer
                          to kill the girls rather than see them give
                          birth to children who would become their
                          foes.
                          On their diet:
                          Their principal food are two
                          or three kinds of roots, which they hunt for
                          all over the land ; they are very unhealthy,,
                          inflating, and it takes two days to roast
                          them. Many are very bitter, and with all
                          that they are gathered with difficulty. But
                          those people are so much exposed to starva-
                          tion that these roots are to them indispensa-
                          ble and they walk two and three leagues to-
                          obtain them. Now and then they kill deer
                          and at times get a fish, but this is so little
                          and their hunger so great that they eat
                          spiders and ant eggs, worms, lizards and
                          salamanders and serpents, also vipers the
                          bite of which is deadly. They swallow
                          earth and wood, and all they can get, the
                          dung of deer and more things I do not men-
                          tion ; and I verily believe, from what I saw,
                          that if there were any stones in the country
                          they would eat them also. They preserve
                          the bones of the fish they eat, of snakes and
                          other animals, to pulverize them and eat the
                          powder.
                          They are so accustomed to running that,
                          without resting or getting tired, they run
                          from morning till night in pursuit of a deer,
                          and kill a great many, because they follow
                          until the game is worn out, sometimes catch-
                          ing it alive.
                          This was, it is thought, in what is now Texas or Northern Mexico. I know other HG cultures in other places may have been quite different. But it's an interesting report from someone who did not have our current cultures mores and values. It can be hard to imagine a world so completely different. I'm glad to be in the 21st century.

                          Tercio

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by tfarny View Post
                            Never underestimate the power of prejudice and superstition to shape human decisions. From what I've read of uncontacted / minimally influenced HG groups, women had an awfully hard lot compared to guys.
                            Modern primitives, sure, but it took time for this to happen. If we're supposed to be talking about ancient, stone-tool-makers, maybe not.
                            5' 9" 47 YO F
                            PB start June 2, 2012
                            Pre PB SW = 180 (no scale at home, Mom's scale January - 153lbs!)
                            Current deadlift 245 lbs, squat 165 lbs, bench press 135 lbs


                            PB Journal

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by June68 View Post
                              Modern primitives, sure, but it took time for this to happen. If we're supposed to be talking about ancient, stone-tool-makers, maybe not.
                              *Maybe* being the key word there. This is all mostly baseless speculation based on best guesses and recent history, and I suspect a little bit of what everyone is suggesting happened at one time or another. *shrUg* No way to know if any one archetype held sway over the others as a general rule.

                              But archetypical division of labor was rarely about group needs or even *Best Qualified* - it was usually about control and traditionally women got the short end of the stick in many cultures both modern and primitive when it came to control.

                              But in the end we simply don't have the data to answer these questions about actual ancient cultures.

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