The Ascent of Woman

The Ascent of Woman
The specificity of the prehistoric times lies not only in their remoteness, the great temporal distance from nowadays, making it virtually impossible to get or construct a detailed picture, or at least a scheme, of prehistoric period. The absence of direct evidences – inscriptions, papyruses, tablets and other paleographical documents – determines the use of the other means of archaeological and paleontological investigation. The artifacts in the caves and other abodes and settlements of ancient people, the remains of their weapons, objects of cult and ritual, the remains of their bodies and skeletons are the only sources that can shed some light on the peculiarities of prehistoric communities and their lifestyle.

In these studies one more method is also applicable to the investigation of the subject – the comparative analysis of the tribal communities that are contemporary to the researcher. This method was especially popular in the 19th century and was used by such scientists as Morgan, Engels et al (Engels 26). However, a special care must be taken in applying this approach to the investigation of the prehistoric times. Even the modern tribes have significant differences in their lifestyle, rearing children, warfare, rites etc. The Australian Aborigines and South African tribes are loyal and more tolerant in educating their children, unlike the Amazonian tribes of Brazil that have a developed and harsh system of corporal punishments.

Speaking about the prehistoric period, even a larger diversity should be taken into consideration in order to be more or less correct in research and descriptive and evaluative representation of the preliterate times of human history. Engels goes into the particularities of the organization of various tribes - the Iroquois, Polynesians, Celts, Germans, Old Greeks – that existed throughout a vast period of time and on different continents of the globe (56) and there do appear significant differences between them.

Speaking about the above mentioned period, it is impossible to ignore the advances, discoveries and inventions made by the prehistoric people, which became later the basis for the great ancient cultures of Egypt, Sumer, Harappa, China and others. These advances may not be classified as scientific ones in the sense as it is used in modern times, but taming the animals, cattle-raising, agricultural inventions, smelting of metal ores, constructing a loom etc could not be performed without a certain theoretical basis, methods of collecting and processing information, making hypotheses and experiments that are overwhelmingly incorporated into the modern science. These achievements were not written down or documented, but however, were passed down to the succeeding generations orally, in the form of direct instructions, parables, traditions, lore. The further appearance and development of Ancient Eastern, Greek and Roman science would not have been possible without the prehistoric advances – fire, metals, agriculture etc.

The contribution of the women can be deduced from the spheres where they used to be traditionally employed – household, agriculture, tailoring, weaving, gathering, cuisine. The major development and improvement of these spheres of human activity predominantly represented by the women can be attributed exclusively to them, but we must not forget that the development of the prehistoric societies and cultures was a gradual and many-sided process. As opposed to smithery, weaponry, carpentry, hunting – which were the domains of men exclusively – the household related crafts were most probably invented and developed by women.

The most convincing evidence of the prehistoric science are the objects found at archeological digs or by accident. A wheel, metallic weapon, loom, plow and others are the results of long and intensive creative and engineering activity of the primitive societies. Their shape, material, construction was worked out during the centuries of experimenting and modeling. The studies of the Polynesian, Australian and pacific natives also support the hypothesis that even the primitive societies are not able to survive without a certain level of knowledge about the environment they live in. Thus, Peter Worsley held that the indigenous Australians “depended for their very survival on observing plants and animals accurately” and could distinguish “no fewer than 643 species” (Conner 35). The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert had a “deep understanding of animal behavior” (39) according to another explorer. The level of scientific development of some tribes sometimes was even on a par with the European technologies, which may be proved by the Polynesian sidereal compass that was divided into 32 segments, precisely like the European magnetic one (49). The role of women in this process cannot be separated from that the men played, as they were acting primarily in accord with each other. The remains of the human bodies, the artifacts and the traditional division of labor are the only evidences of the contributions made by women to the prehistoric science, or rather proto-science.

Although it is often stated in the literature that “[r]elatively few properties significant in women’s history are listed on the national Register of Historic Places” (Dubow 2), and many other authors emphasize the lack of special investigation into the women’s history and women’s role in scientific progress of the prehistoric period. But it is hardly reasonable to call all the human history male exclusively. The men were not living and working separately from women, and their joint influence on the successive history should be perceived and regarded as equal.

What we have today – from the structure of modern society to the latest scientific innovations – is based on the achievements of our prehistoric ancestors, their hard labor, creative talent, intellectual effort and striving for a more comfortable life. It can be also stated that the women contributed much, although indirectly, to the scientific discoveries in other fields too – metallurgy, weaponry etc – giving men enough time and liberating them from much of domestic related labor. Strictly speaking it is more appropriate to regard the human achievements without male-female distinction as the society was an entity with which every individual identified themselves. The times of individualism, proprietary and gender role distinctions appeared in the next, more recent, epoch.

Works Cited

Conner, Clifford D. “Prehistory: Were Hunter-Gatherers Stupid?” A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives and “Low Mechanicks.” New York, NY: Nation Books, 2005. 26 – 116. Print.
Dubow, Gail Lee, and Jennifer B. Goodman, eds. Restoring Women’s History Through Historic Preservation. Baltimore, MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003.
Engels, Frederick. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Trans. Alick West. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1972.

The Ascent of Woman 8 of 10 on the basis of 1898 Review.