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Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor

Date:
February 18, 2015
Source:
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)
Summary:
Neanderthals divided some of their tasks according to their sex. A new study analyzed 99 teeth of 19 individuals from three different sites (El Sidron, in Asturias - Spain, L'Hortus in France, and Spy in Belgium), reveals that the dental grooves in the female fossils follow the same pattern, different to that found in male individuals.
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Neanderthal societies used the mouth as a third hand, as in some current populations, for tasks such as preparing the furs or chopping meat.
Credit: CSIC Communications Department

Neanderthal communities divided some of their tasks according to their sex. This is one of the main conclusions reached by a study performed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), published in the Journal of Human Evolution. This study, which analyzed 99 incisors and canine teeth of 19 individuals from three different sites (El Sidron, in Asturias -- Spain, L'Hortus in France, and Spy in Belgium), reveals that the dental grooves present in the female fossils follow the same pattern, which is different to that found in male individuals.

Analyses show that all Neanderthal individuals, regardless of age, had dental grooves. According to Antonio Rosas, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences: "This is due to the custom of these societies to use the mouth as a third hand, as in some current populations, for tasks such as preparing the furs or chopping meat, for instance."

Rosas specifies that "what we have now discovered is that the grooves detected in the teeth of adult women are longer than those found in adult men. Therefore we assume that the tasks performed were different."

Other variables analyzed are the tiny spalls of the teeth enamel. Male individuals show a greater number of nicks in the enamel and dentin of the upper parts, while in female individuals these imperfections appear in the lower parts.

It is still unclear which activities corresponded to women and which ones to men. However, the authors of the study note that, as in modern hunter-gatherer societies, women may have been responsible for the preparation of furs and the elaboration of garments. Researchers state that the retouching of the edges of stone tools seems to have been a male task.

Almudena Estalrrich, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences, adds: "Nevertheless, we believe that the specialization of labor by sex of the individuals was probably limited to a few tasks, as it is possible that both men and women participated equally in the hunting of big animals."

Rosas concludes: "The study of Neanderthals has provided numerous discoveries in recent years. We have moved from thinking of them as little evolved beings, to know that they took care of the sick persons, buried their deceased, ate seafood, and even had different physical features than expected: there were redhead individuals, and with light skin and eyes. So far, we thought that the sexual division of labor was typical of sapiens societies, but apparently that's not true."


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Materials provided by Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Almudena Estalrrich, Antonio Rosas. Division of labor by sex and age in Neandertals: an approach through the study of activity-related dental wear. Journal of Human Evolution, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.07.007

Cite This Page:

Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). "Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218123427.htm>.
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). (2015, February 18). Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218123427.htm
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). "Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150218123427.htm (accessed May 24, 2017).

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