Gender-based division of labor 4,000 years ago

Catalan Institute of Human Palaeoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES)
  • A study of dental wear of 106 individuals of the Argaric culture buried in Castellón Alto (Granada, Spain) shows evidence of gender-based division of labour as early as 4,000 year ago
  • The evidence indicates that only women of the at El Argar culture used their anterior teeth to make threads and strings
  • The study provides a better vision of the lifestyle and social organization of the El Argar Bronze Age culture


The El Argar culture

The Argaric culture, named after the El Argar site, was a Bronze Age culture that developed between 2200 and 1550 BC located at the current Spanish province of Almería, as well as some parts of Granada and Murcia. The El Argar culture was a complex society, with social differentiation based on gender, age and specialization in the manufacture of craftwork made from ceramics, lithics, textiles and metals.

The social complexity of this culture is confirmed by research of the Journal of Archaeological Science, that published a study headed by Marina Lozano, a researcher at the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), in collaboration with Ángel Rubio Salvador and colleagues, from the Laboratory of Anthropology of the University of Granada. The study of the teeth of the remains of 106 individuals buried in Granada casted new light onto the social structure of this culture, finding that some tasks were carried out only by women.


Labour division at El Argar

The analysis of the dental wear of 106 individuals buried in the Castellón Alto site (Granada, Spain) shows that women used their front teeth (incisors and canines) to perform tasks related to the elaboration of threads and cords during the Bronze Age (1900-1600 BCE). The specific dental wear features, including notches, flakes and occlusal and interproximal grooves on the dental enamel, result from the manipulation of plant and animal fibers used to produce textiles and basketry. While previous studies of the material culture of El Argar have evidenced these activities, a direct relationship establishing the gender of the individual artisans had not yet been established.

Grooves on teeth of female individuals with evidence of work with ropes and threads (arrows signal non-alimentary dental wear).

As a result, one of the most important conclusions of this new study is that double labor specialization existed already by the end of the Bronze Age; that is to say almost 4,000 years ago. It indicates that a single, small group of people was dedicating themselves to handcrafts related to the production of threads and textile manufacture and that, furthermore, these activities were carried out exclusively by women.

On the other hand, the fact that this evidence was recorded in remains belonging to individuals of different ages, with more advanced wear as they get older, allows to infer that this specialization began in their youth and that the same women continued performing these tasks throughout their lives.

Evidence of non-alimentary uses of teeth of Individual 90 from Castellón Alto site.

The study stems from a research line of IPHES that aims to identify the use of teeth as tools. In the case of this research, the obtained data shows the division of labour both in terms of gender and of age at El Argar. Consequently, it provides a better vision of the lifestyle and social organization of the El Argar Bronze Age culture.


Image Credits:

Dried flax plants picture is in the public domain and was downloaded from Pixabay.

Scanning electron microscope picture of grooves on teeth picture by Marina Lozano/IPHES, re-used with permission.

Evidence of non-alimentary use of teeth picture by Ángel Rubio Salvador (Uni. Granada), re-used with permission.

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