Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Gender Roles: The Plains

O’Brien, Patricia J.
1991 Evidence for the Antiquity of Women’s Roles In Pawnee Society. Plains Anthropological Society 36(134): 51-64

            O’Brien’s article centers around the C. C. Witt lodge and mound near Grandview Plaza and the Smokey Hill River in the state of Kansas; excavations took place in 1974 and 1980. Within the mound, there were pottery, projectile points, ceramics and arrowheads as well as skeletal remains of 13 individuals, essentially forming a family cemetery. Within the lodge, there were basic domestic materials such as metates, endscrapers, knives, axes, projectile points, awls, fishhooks, bison scapula hoes, an arrowshaft abrader, and pottery. The remains were dated to about 1300 A.D. and are similar to other Central Plains tradition sites. Moreover, other remains were discovered using flotation, which recovered micro-faunal and micro-botanical remains. These remains, along with the special structural features of the Witt lodge, were the main evidential aspects the article used.
            By using the Direct Historical Approach, O’Brien was able to reconstruct ancient Pawnee society, specifically in relation to women roles, as well as men’s. From analyzing Pawnee cosmological and ceremonial data, O’Brien was able to conclude that the concepts of Evening Star and Morning Star were models for women and men’s behavior- Evening Star being the model for women, and Morning Star being the model for men. Through their union, they created the first human, a girl. The Pawnee sacrificial ceremony of a captured young girl from an enemy tribe commemorates this union.
            Further, using the micro-faunal remains, O’Brien was able to conclude that birds and their symbolic representations played a significant part in gender roles as well. Eagles were symbolic for males, because Eagle feathers were used in constructing arrows- and arrows were associated with war and warriors. Ground-living birds such as the turkey and quail were more symbolic of females; the earth is thought of as female- ground-living birds being are more symbolic of this concept. The dualistic nature of ground- versus non-ground living birds represents the dualistic philosophy permeating throughout Pawnee culture.
            Lastly, the lodge structures and space were used as evidence for Pawnee gender role assignment. Artifacts were recovered within the lodge that are associated with male and female activities. Also, the lodge was divided into northern and southern spaces, the eastern and western spaces serving ceremonial purposes. Groups of men and women would alternate in using the northern and southern spaces, or by groups of only men or only women. The same spacing by directions was indicated for women in gardening practices.
Within this article, O’Brien raises questions in trying to interpret and understand the data, as well as the possible implications, rather than merely documenting what was recovered. The article points out the importance of gender roles and their presence in ceremonial and cultural contents within Pawnee society in even ancient times. Furthermore, this article, through using the Direct Historical Approach in reconstructing Pawnee society and gender roles, has nudged open more the door to modern archaeology. O’Brien’s use of such a theoretical approach can be applied to many other areas of study, such as kinship patterns.

Guenther, Todd R.
The Horse Creek Site: Some Evidence for Gender Roles in a Transitional Early to Middle Plains Archaic Base Camp Plains Anthropological Society. 36(134): 9-23

            The Horse Creek site can be found on the north side of the Horse Creek valley near the foothills of the Laramie Mountains in Wyoming. The site recovered an array of artifacts including firecracked rock, floral remains, burned and unburned bone, chipped stone debitage and tools, and groundstone. Guenther points out that, based on the artifacts present, the site was not a short-term occupational site. Rather, it was used for more long-term stays and evidence based on plant remains indicated that occupation occurred in the summer or early fall around 4090 to 4900 years ago. Guenther briefly discusses the 500-year difference in dating of the site, stating that both dates were reliable, and that it is also likely that the occupation happened once. Moreover, the site included 6 hearth spots, which allowed dating of the site and was of primary focus.
            On top of what was recovered at the site, the article talks about environmental constraints that may have occurred within the region, and thus the site. Such environmental constraints discussed included drought. Guenther stated that even though drought may have created more difficult living conditions, human populations might have still lived within the surrounding areas but only in specific sustainable places like the mountains. After the drought ended due to increased rainfall, populations accordingly increased within the area- faunal and vegetation becoming more abundant as well. Guenther notes that the Horse Creek site was likely one of the areas that was a result of the population increase within the region due to this climatic change.
             Despite the fact that the article lays out varying dimensions of the site, the main focus centers on the 6 hearths that were recovered at the site. These hearths were not only used for dating but for information on the diet and seasonality of the occupation as well. Guenther points out that the western Plains peoples were more nomadic and had to store vast amounts of food to survive winter months- the Horse Creek site being part of this adaptive lifestyle. The labor that went into processing, preparing, and storing the food was based on gender. A very large amount of labor that went into food processing, preparation, and storage was done by women. Thus, Guenther suggests that the choice of which location to move to was made by women, rather than men, who did the hunting. However, Guenther logically questions the realistic notions of such divided gender roles. Guenther brought up the possibility that women occasionally crafted their own tools to process food (an activity considered to be only done by men) because women were constantly working with them. Further, when women were out gathering food, men must have processed food and prepared it themselves when hunger struck because the women were not there to do so. At the same time, it is highly likely that the men participated in gathering activities with the women because plant foods were a huge part of their diet. Thus, women may have required the help of men in order to acquire the great amounts of plant foods.
            This article is important in that the author questions the normality of gender roles in hunting-gathering societies within the Plains region. Guenther states that gender roles may have been more flexible than previously assumed. Women may have fashioned their own stone tools, as well as possibly going out and hunting for meat- doing “men’s work”. At the same time, men may have went out to gather and then process plants, doing “women’s work”. This questioning of gender roles and using a more critical perspective can also be applied when analyzing gender roles of ancient populations in areas such as religious activities or even parenting and child rearing.

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