Science Questions

Did cave-men hunt and cave-women cook?

Sun, 28th Nov 2010

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Lia Svilans asked:

I have a question about prehistoric humans. The stereotype is that prehistoric man went out and hunted and prehistoric woman stayed in the cave and looked after the kids. Is there actually any archaeological evidence for this?


Thanks you.


Lia Svilans


Diana -   Well the answer is, we don't really know.  Itís something that palaeontologists have argued over and argued over for years and years, and years.  But it all hangs around a thing called division of labour.  The idea of that is you have certain groups of people doing certain types of jobs, and if you can divide people according to certain rules say, their gender or their age, or something like that then it might mean that they do a specific job.  But of course, finding that in the archaeological record is actually really difficult because you'd have to have a certain group of people fossilised along with the job they were doing, and you'd have to have it repeated over and over to show that it was happening in this society.  So the answer is, we don't really know what was happening all those years ago because itís in pre-history. You can look at cave art perhaps, but even then, how do you interpret some figures as male or female?  Quite often, the cave art isnít very easily identifiable in terms of gender.  There was one theory that one guy came up with a few years ago who said that the Neanderthals actually became extinct because the women took part in hunting far too much and therefore were not able to bear children because they got killed off.

Chris -   Rather likely archaeologists in palaeontology that probably made that comment, who were probably blokes, I would think!

Diana -   Yeah.  This was definitely a man who said this, but I mean, itís certainly possible that women in Palaeolithic times did take part in hunting.  We don't know that they were busy making babies all the time.  It looks like population was actually quite low.

Dave -   Can you compare it with modern Stone Age peoples?

Diana -   You'll get into trouble for calling them Stone Age, but yeah, I know what you mean.

Dave -   I'm sorry.

Diana -   They do make comparisons.  Itís called ethnographic comparisons.  So what you do is you look at hunter gatherer groups in say, South Africa, or South America, or in Papua New Guinea, and look at how they divide up their labour.  And actually, itís quite a mixed picture.  Sometimes you get very matriarchal societies where the women are in-charge and the women go out and hunt and gather, and sometimes you get patriarchal societies, societies where the women stay at home and the men do do the hunting.  So, who knows?


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Lia Svilans asked the Naked Scientists: I have a question about prehistoric humans. The stereotype is that prehistoric man went out and hunted and prehistoric woman stayed in the cave and looked after the kids. Is there actually any archaeological evidence for this? Thanks you. Lia Svilans What do you think? Lia Svilans , Sun, 14th Nov 2010

I do not know of any one book written containing the theme
Characteristics of family hierarchy calm, until evolutionary disturbance of the 20th century.

Tribal family groups, everyone pitched in...
Prehistory dictated that the woman's maternal instinct was the strong and the males instinct was to protect his life, liberty and persuit of happiness. This is in the Hieroglyphs dating back to the ancient times.

In essence, back in the day, since the material items were at minimal, it would be his weapon being sharply maintained to protect his precious belongings as his family and dwelling and tribal hunting game. This category of the Essence of worldly ways are dissolving, disrupting the system and creating chaos. Someone promoted the goal and forgot to assess the affects of ignoring family moral priorities.

This has come about because of the instability of home life, lack of respect to establish moral ethics, following in the foot prints of their parents.

Our path of evolutionary progress is degrading.
maffsolo, Sun, 14th Nov 2010

OK, but was that a "yes" or a "no"? Bored chemist, Sun, 14th Nov 2010

Yes the men did not hunt dinosaurs, nor did they breast feed.
I wonder how those monsters taste like? maffsolo, Sun, 14th Nov 2010

A point or order: Men and dinosaurs did not exist in the same era.

Nobody can know the answer for sure because there is no evidence from the past available to say who did what. However we can probably deduce that indeed men hunted and women cooked based on all the evidence from stone age cultures and isolated tribes of humans that have been discovered in recent history. It would be unlikely that this would be exclusivley the case (as it seems to be) had the positions been reversed in the past. Women also tend to be gatherers but not generally hunters. Men also can and do cook - they have to when away on all male hunting trips - but as a generalisation it is fair to say men hunted and women cooked. graham.d, Fri, 19th Nov 2010

Are you inferring that Fred Flintstone is not historically accurate? Geezer, Fri, 19th Nov 2010

I think that it is important to add that besides the Flintstones One Million BC, starring Raquel Welch, was totally convincing (the earlier version was tacky, but Raquel...). Some people ignore the truth when it is staring them in the face. SteveFish, Sat, 20th Nov 2010

I can assure you that Raquel Welch convinced me.

She was on the TV the other day. It's obvious that she did a quick zip round our galaxy at close to light speed to shave a few years off her age relative to mine. Geezer, Sat, 20th Nov 2010

We've found a lot of magnesium in old bones, those indicate that the early humans was not hunters but gatherers, also eating those insects etc, they could find as they tried to survive. That should make both sexes equal, sort of :) the specialization must have come later when we started to trap bigger animals, and then muscle strength should have been an important factor. Not to forget that women gives birth, and then need a greater comfort space. We all, well most, want to protect each other :) yor_on, Mon, 6th Dec 2010

"Cave Man" is a very imprecise term considering about 5 million years of hominid evolution.

Somewhere I heard about a shift from flat molars to cup-shaped molars which was supposed to correspond to meat eating.

A few things have happened in the human evolution, including developing of extremely dependent infants (to the point where a newborn can't even support its own head). 
The other aspect is the reliance on clothing, and secondary heat sources, especially in the northerly climates. 
Some articles suggest that clothing was instrumental in the adaptability of the species.

However, the increased needs of child rearing, and clothing probably increased the domestic chores of the early human female.  And, I will venture out on a limb to suggest that at least the early stages of child rearing likely fell on the females.

In many aspects of "modern" life, both men and women have participated, including American Pioneers sharing tasks.  I would have to believe that the rigors form prehistoric life would have included the necessity of both the men and women participating in the food procurement. 

CliffordK, Tue, 7th Dec 2010

Raquel Welch? Ahha, she is still cooken and she does not even have to lift a spoon. maffsolo, Tue, 7th Dec 2010

Yeah I agree Take2, Sat, 23rd Mar 2013

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