Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Southwest: Gender Roles


Mowrer, Kathy 2006. Basketmaker II Mortuary Practices: Social Differentiation and Regional Variation. Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society 72(2): 259-281.

            Kathy Mowrer focused on the mortuary patterns of Basketmaker II (2000 B.C.-A.D. 500) groups within the Four Corners region, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Within these four states, Mowrer used burial data from site concentrations such as Marsh Pass and Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, Butler Wash-Ceder Mesa in Utah, Navajo Reservoir District in New Mexico, and sites in the Animas River Valley in Colorado near Durango. These regions were then divided into Eastern and Western Basketmaker II divisions, those located in Arizona and Utah were Western whereas those in New Mexico and Colorado were Eastern. From extensive analysis on burial remains and data from these sites, Mowrer was able to find correlations and associations between evidence found with gender and age distinctions. Mowrer also analyzed possible differences between Eastern and Western Basketmaker II groups related to burial orientation and single and multiple burials.
            Early on, Mowrer describes how social identity can be discerned from mortuary patterns, social identities such as those tied to rank, social positions, gender, age, and social affiliations. Mowrer goes on to describe how band- and tribal-level societies tend to only mark age and gender differences, economic roles, and personal achievement within their mortuary practices whereas larger societies tend to mark age gender, social positions, social affiliations, rank, and ascribed status. Later on, Mowrer presents evidence that contradicts this conception of Basketmaker II groups in the Southwest.
            Mowrer points out a few burials that contained unusual remains. The first described was a female that had objects that were typically associated with male burials such as an atlatl and projectile points. The second unusual burial described was a male that was buried with flutes. His burial is referenced as the “Chief’s Grave” because it is the only Basketmaker II burial that has flutes. The third burial described as being unusual was a female that contained the entire head-skin of an adult male.  Mowrer says these unusual burials suggest ranking and status of some sort, which is not typical of a small-scale society. In her results and conclusion, Mowrer says that these people were maybe leaders of some kind within their community, however the general pattern of Basketmaker II mortuary burials stays consistent with the expected small-scale society.
            Furthermore, Mowrer concluded that there was not enough identified male or female burials in order to attain more conclusive results. Also, New Mexico was not included within the analysis because only five burials were identified. However, Mowrer’s analysis was able to suggest that specific burial data existed to show gender differences. These data included textiles and bedding. Textiles and bedding were found to occur more common with female burials than males, which may indicate an economic role for women.
            For age differentiation, evidence was apparent that differences in fact existed for differing age groups. Within adult burials from Colorado and Arizona, hunting tools were common and almost exclusive. Textiles were found more often with infants as well in Utah and Arizona more so than adults and subadults.
            Mowrer also found that, according to head orientation and single and multiple burial practices, that two distinct groups lived within this Four Corners region- that of the East and that of the West. Eastern and Western Basketmaker II groups differed most likely in head orientation patterns: Eastern burials were found to have head orientation more towards the North, whereas Western burials were found to have no particular head orientation in any direction. Further, Eastern burials were found to have more single burials whereas Western burials were found to have more multi-individuals burials. Another indicator distinguishing these two groups is related to age differentiation in mortuary practices. Western burials of infants had a lot more items than did subadult burials whereas Eastern burials had a lot more items contained with subadults than with infant burials.
            The applicability of this article lies in the fact that it shows how mortuary patterns and practices can show a great deal about past peoples such as “social differentiation, social organization, and cultural diversity in prehistoric times.” Further, Mowrer points out that it is important to learn as much as we can about the cultural diversity of prehistoric peoples because there is cultural diversity of their present populations that continue to exist and “characterizes the Southwest today.”



Roth, Barbara J. 2006. The Role of Gender in the Adoption of Agriculture in the Southern Southwest. Journal of Anthropological Research 62(4): 513-538.

            Barbara J. Roth focuses on the cultural groups within the southern Southwest including the Paiute, Tohono O’odham, Pima, and Yuman as well as the Maricopa, Mohave, Yuma, Cocopa, and Gila. Roth uses ethnohistoric data in relation with excavation site data to demonstrate the roles of gender. Excavation site data were used from the Late Archaic/Early Agricultural sites in the Tuscon Basin, focusing on the Middle Archaic and San Pedro phase time periods.
            Roth describes numerous ethnographies about the division of labor between men and women. It was pointed out, over and over again, how women seemed to have been the primary role takers in gathering plants, processing, and storage. Men were found to be the primary role takers in hunting and fishing activities. Men were also seen to be more active in farming activities in societies where agriculture was more intensive.
            Roth goes on further to distinguish material culture between women and men. Women material culture is typically thought to include processing tools such as basketry trays, milling stone tools like manos, mutates, mortars, and pestles, as well as baskets and pottery vessels for storage. Certain features, also, were related to women’s roles in processing plants were hearths, roasting pits, parching areas, and storage pits. The material culture thought to be assigned to men’s roles includes bows and arrows, snares and traps, as well as hide working materials.
            The Middle Archaic site assemblages contained ground stone, unifaces, choppers, projectile points, cores, manos, mutates, bone awls and debitage as well as several hearth features and pits. This evidence shows that there were people living in these floodplain regions when cultigens were adopted. The abundant evidence of processing and manufacturing activities suggests women played an important role in decision-making.
            Similar data was found in Sand Pedro phase site assemblages. Maize was also present across the basin at this time. Other wild resources were shown to have been processed, not merely maize, due to macrobotanical remain analysis. There were also burial goods that signified gender differences. Two females had a biface preform and a pestle/lapstone, and shell bead necklace and lumps of hematite. The male was found to be buried with a projectile point.
            Within Roth’s discussion, she addresses the strong connection between the ethnographies and the archaeological data. Women were seen to have a major role in gathering, processing, and storage of plants. Their knowledge was probably used to develop early agricultural practices. Thus, it was largely due to their decision. Roth says that this could be the case, provided the data. It logically follows that women would have such sway in decision-making processes due to their experiences and roles within the communities. This finding is important in that it helps create other understandings instead of mere “cultural groups” or “hunter-gatherers”. It helps to give these people faces, according to Roth’s article, and thus helps us understand the social complexities further. Roth’s conceptualizations can be applied to other regions within North America, as well, with perhaps similar findings.

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