is a method of studying past societies through their material culture
In the social sciences, material culture is a term that refers to the relationship between artifacts and social relations. Studying a culture's relationship to materiality is a lens through which social and cultural attitudes can be discussed...
by closely examining the social construction of gender
Gender is a range of characteristics used to distinguish between males and females, particularly in the cases of men and women and the masculine and feminine attributes assigned to them. Depending on the context, the discriminating characteristics vary from sex to social role to gender identity...
identities and relations. Gender archaeology itself is based on the ideas that even though nearly all individuals are naturally born to a biological sex (usually either male or female, although also intersex
Intersex, in humans and other animals, is the presence of intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish female from male...
), there is nothing natural about gender, which is actually a social construct which varies between cultures and changes through time.
Gender archaeologists examine the relative positions in society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...
of men, women, and children through identifying and studying the differences in power and authority they held, as they are manifested in material (and skeletal) remains. These differences can survive in the physical record although they are not always immediately apparent and are often open to interpretation. The relationship between the genders can also inform relationships between other social groups such as families, different classes, ages and religions.
The archaeologist Bruce G. Trigger noted that gender archaeology differed from other variants of the discipline that developed around the same time, such as working-class archaeology, indigenous archaeology
Indigenous archaeology is a form of archaeology where indigenous peoples are involved in the care of, excavation and analysis of the cultural and bodily remains of their ancestors...
and community archaeology, in that "instead of simply representing an alternate focus of research, it has established itself as a necessary and integral part of all other archaeologies."
Some archaeologists have openly criticised gender archaeology. One of those responsible was Paul Bahn
Paul G. Bahn is a British archaeologist, translator, writer and broadcaster who has published extensively on a range of archaeological topics, with particular attention to prehistoric art...
, who in 1992 published a statement declaring that:
- The latest outbreak - which bears a great resemblance to the good old days of the new archaeology
Processual archaeology is a form of archaeological theory that had its genesis in 1958 with Willey and Phillips' work Method and Theory in American Archeology, in which the pair stated that "American archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing" , a rephrasing of Frederic William Maitland's...
(primarily a racket for the boys) - is gender archaeology, which is actually feminist archaeology (a new racket for the girls). Yes, folks, sisters are doing it for themselves... Hardly a month goes by without another conference on 'gender archaeology' being held somewhere by a host of female archaeologists (plus a few brave or trendy males who aspire to political correctness
Political correctness is a term which denotes language, ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts,...
). Some of its aims are laudable, but the bandwagon shouldn't be allowed to roll too far, as the new archaeology did, before the empresses' lack of clothes is pointed out by gleeful cynics.
- Gero, J., Conkey, W.(Eds). 1991. Engendering Archaeology. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Joyce, R.A. 2008. Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender, and Archaeology. London: Thames & Hudson.
- Wright, R.P., 1996. Gender and Archaeology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
- Gilchrist, Roberta 1999 "Gender and archaeology : contesting the past" London ; New York : Routledge
- Hamilton,Sue . Whitehouse,Ruth D and Wright, Katherine I. (EDs.) 2007. "Archaeology and women : ancient and modern issues" Walnut Creek, Calif. : Left Coast Press
- Milledge Nelson, Sarah (Ed.) 2006 "Handbook of gender in archaeology" Lanham, MD ; Oxford : AltaMira Press
- Milledge Nelson, Sarahand Myriam Rosen-Ayalon (Eds.) 2002 "In pursuit of gender : worldwide archaeological approaches ." Walnut Creek, CA : AltaMira Press.