Gendered archaeology, a comment

Michael Forstadt (forstadt@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Tue, 19 Apr 1994 16:31:39 -0400

Alex Barker raises an interesting and important point concerning gender
studies in archaeology. Like him, I do not believe that prehistoric
gender *CATEGORIES* may be reconstructed. This is part of the larger
problem of archaeology's relationship to social anthropology. If
archaeology is really to be ethnography-with-time-depth, then a reliance
on direct historical analogy is defeating the purpose. Nevertheless, it
is difficult to imagine how archaeology can possibly move beyond the
constraints of analogy.

Despite these difficulties, I believe that it *IS* possible to say
something about gender relations in antiquity through archaeological
research. See Christine Hastorf's study of pre-Inka and Inka period sex
relations in ENGENDERING ARCHAEOLOGY. Hastorf uses direct historical
analogy only as a starting point, bringing in bone chemistry analyses and
other data to support her argument that gender relations changed with
Inka domination of outlying areas. Note that this sort of research is
only possible when one realizes that gender roles, although not
biologically determined in an absolute sense, are at least *sex-linked*
phenomena. Using another example, the presence of both male and female
"warlord burials" (with weapons, horses, chariots, etc.) among the
prehistoric nomadic cultures of the Russian Steppe has the potential to
tell us *something* about gender roles in antiquity.

It is clear that gendered archaeology cannot accomplish all of the goals
that some have set for it. However, we can at least throw out most of the
more androcentric theories that have run rampant through the literature
of our discipline from its inception to the present day, especially those
relating to the early prehistoric periods (including theories of human
origins) for which direct analogy is wholly inappropriate.
Mike Forstadt
Department of Anthropology
Harvard University