Ancient Teeth Reveal Gender Roles in Craft Specialization 5,000 Years Ago

ancient teeth reveal gender roles in craft specialization 5 000 years ago.jpg Science

In a surprising discovery that could shed new light on the societal structure of the Chalcolithic era, a mass grave containing the remains of 1,348 individuals and 52 dogs was unearthed in 2007 during a construction project in Caravaca, Murcia, Spain. The grave, hidden inside a seven-meter cavity, is believed to date back to the 3rd millennium B.C. and was in use for about four centuries. Despite the scarcity of grave goods found at the site, researchers have made significant strides in understanding the societal roles of men and women during this time period through an unexpected tool: the teeth of these ancient individuals.

The findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, detail the results of an analysis of the teeth of 102 individuals from the site, revealing intriguing signs of craft specialization and potential division of labor based on sex. The study suggests that these individuals used their teeth as a ‘third hand’ in tasks such as processing vegetable fibers for textile production. This could represent the earliest evidence of craft specialization in the Iberian Peninsula and offers potential proof of a gender-based division of work in a Chalcolithic community.

Unearthing History: Dental Evidence from Spain Reveals Prehistoric Craft Specialisation

In a remarkable discovery made during construction work in Murcia, Spain, back in 2007, a mass grave named Camino del Molino was uncovered, containing the remains of 1,348 individuals and 52 dogs. The grave, which dates back to the 3rd millennium B.C., was hidden inside a cavity about seven meters in diameter, just 400 meters away from the Chalcolithic town of Molinos de Papel. The skeletal remains served as a unique window into the past, providing new insights into the societal structure and division of labor in the community.

Teeth as Artisan Tools: Earliest Evidence of Craft Specialisation

A study titled "New insight into prehistoric craft specialisation. Tooth-tool use in the Chalcolithic burial site of Camino del Molino" published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, detailed the findings from the analysis of teeth from 102 individuals. The results of the study suggest that these individuals utilized their teeth as tools for artisan tasks, such as processing vegetable fibers for textile production. This evidence indicates the earliest known craft specialisation in the Iberian Peninsula and hints at a gender-based division of labor in the Chalcolithic community. Further analyses support this theory, suggesting that men specialized in livestock and grazing tasks, while women focused on cloth making activities.

A Glimpse into the Iberian Copper Age Society

The Iberian Copper Age, as the study reveals, was characterized by impressive defensive architectural structures, increased agricultural production, population growth, and political centralization. Funerary activities were intense, with tombs of various kinds being constructed near settlements and main riverbeds. The burial at Camino del Molino was characterized by repeated interment of corpses, many simultaneously, which suggests a highly structured societal organization. The majority of the individuals died before the age of 59, with the largest age group ranging from 21 to 39.

Comparing Camino del Molino with Other Contemporary Sites

To fully appreciate the magnitude of the tomb at Camino del Molino, it is essential to compare it with other contemporary sites. While there are other communal burials in Europe with a significant number of individuals, none match the size of the Camino del Molino site, which far exceeds the 500 people found in other locations.

Dental Wear: Indicators of Craft Specialisation

The dental wear observed in the analyzed individuals pointed to their engagement in specific tasks. Elongated, V-shaped grooves, and chipped enamel suggest that they were working with small threads, possibly from fibers like flax or hemp. This finding corroborates with iconographic representations from the 3rd millennium B.C. Egyptian tombs, which depict young artisans working with thread, and other historical records of craft specialisation based on gender.

Conclusions and Takeaways

In conclusion, the dental wear found in the individuals buried at Camino del Molino provides crucial insights into the specific activities, social organization, and complexity of populations from the 3rd millennium B.C. These findings not only shed light on the prehistoric ways of life but also highlight the importance of interdisciplinary approaches in archaeological research. The integration of dental analysis in the study of prehistoric populations opens up new avenues for understanding the societal structures and norms of our ancestors.

Crive - News that matters