Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Archaeology: Origin of gender inequalities

Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA http://doi.org/bxwr (2017)

Studying dietary change can provide powerful insights into the lifeways and social structures of ancient people and can be especially revealing of power relationships.

Credit: SEIJI NAKAI/MOMENT/GETTY

Yu Dong of Shandong University and colleagues asked whether a shift in subsistence from millets to wheat, barley and animal products during China's bronze age was associated with societal changes. They performed stable isotope analyses on human bone samples from archaeological sites in China's Central Plains. They found evidence of a dietary shift from the late Neolithic to the Eastern Zhou dynasty (771–221 BC), which was more pronounced in women: although there was no gender difference in dietary signatures in early farming communities, Eastern Zhou females showed signs of a diet lower in animal products than males, suggesting that meals were no longer shared at the household. The sharp differentiation of male and female diets was associated with increased height disparity between the genders, as well as with a reversal in the distribution of burial wealth: females went from having more burial goods than men during the late Neolithic to having fewer burial goods in the Eastern Zhou.

By identifying biological and social correlates of a key dietary shift from the late Neolithic to the bronze age, the authors illuminate the potential origins of male-biased inequality, which persists to the modern day.

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Kousta, S. Archaeology: Origin of gender inequalities. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0059 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0059

Download citation

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing