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Thread: Daily Life of Paleolithic Women page

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    Amica's Avatar
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    Daily Life of Paleolithic Women

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    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.

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    spughy's Avatar
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    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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    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 at 11:37 AM. Reason: spelling

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    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 at 12:10 PM. Reason: Edited to add bold/italics for easier reading - no content change.

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    JBailey's Avatar
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    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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    Amica's Avatar
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    Quote 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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    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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    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.
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    Quote 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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    Quote 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.

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