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Gender archaeology is a field of study that encompasses different approaches in

the study of gender. It developed in the 1980s at the time feminist movement emerged in

many societies including America and Britain questioning the male bias of the

mainstream archaeology. Gender plays a significant role in constructing society and its

values, categorizing which are female or male roles, and creating meanings and identity.

However, studying the concept of gender is difficult as its meaning is influenced by many

factors and relationships in the society. Arguments are raised that gender, unlike the

biological sex, does not exist and complicated to test through archaeology. One of the

traditional approaches in studying gender is through material culture where tangible

evidences are correlated with the presence of men and women such as artifacts and tools

excavated, suggesting a representation of the two genders and their activities (Shaw and

Jameson 2000: 251).

The productive use of material culture is one of the most significant contributions

of archaeologists unlike other disciplines which ignore the potentials of material and its

symbolic representations and meaning construction of gender (Bintliff 2004:85). Scholars

should recognize the relevance of material culture as it is able to correlate the objects and

its physical realities and consequences to gender, allowing varied ways of exploring an

object or material. It provides resources for reference and medium for practice of gender.

It aids the study of gender archaeology in all geographical regions, categories of material

culture, and periods (Gilchrist 1999: 15). One of the research methods used in studying

material culture is a case study, which is also commonly used in feminist archaeology,

where archaeologist become ethnographers. They visit the site or region of analysis

aiming to reconstruct the past societies with as much details as possible about the past
peoples lifestyle, customs, traditions, beliefs, and other events (Nelson 2006: 45). In this

way, history of people and its meanings are identified through material evidences which

represent relationship to gender.

Numerous studies have revealed astounding facts and evidence leading to an

understanding on how the meanings of gender and its facets are identified. Many pre-

historical studies have been conducted around the world in knowing how men and

women are represented, particularly in artefacts, and how these representations construct

or deconstruct the roles of each gender. In a study, Ungendering Archaeology: Concepts

of Sex and Gender in Figurine Studies in Prehistory, Naomi Hamilton analysed and

interpreted the prehistoric anthromorphic figurines from Eastern Europe and the Near

East (Donald and Hurcombe 2000: 18). Hamilton devised as methodology to identify sex

on the figures and analyse the stereotypes attached to it regarding Western gender roles.

According to Hamilton, there is a need for a theory on gender and gender

relations that would at least provide better explanations than the traditional studies. For

any unfamiliar figure, it would be easier to assume that a certain object represents a male

or a female goddess or creature but others might interpret it differently. In Seklo group

from Greece, for

example, an excavator thought of the distorted

figure with womanly shape as representation of

female centaur while other objects resembling

male figure are assumed as enthroned men.

Later, the female-like figure was interpreted in

different views: seated figure, goddess, or

female on a birth stool. These varied

translations happen most of the times because,

as Hamilton argued, archaeologists readily

accept that aspects of human life have

universal characteristics such that what is

commonly associated with women in another

region or era is assumed to be similar in

another region of different period (Donald and

Hurcombe 2000: 28).

Hamilton argued that the ambiguity the two

mutually exclusive genders (male and female)

and its resemblance to historical Western

societies have not been questioned. Traditional

assumptions on these figurines readily

announced as representation of sex and gender

roles and not other things. Besides,

interpretations are based conservative view on

gender. Archaeologists assumed that there is a

standard gender division in culture but

anthropologists say otherwise. In many

historical figurines, most represent female as it

was how assumed by archaeologists.

It must be that male is not so superior in the

old times than now. Obviously, there are

difficulties and contrasting views on identifying

which gender figurines stand for. Hence it is

important to consider not to identify each

figure as sex symbol only but also gather other

information on culture to avoid pre-conceive

notions that men or women are represented in

such matter for a period of time and also to

avoid stereotypes on the roles of women.

Research on gender might suffer if there is a

strong bias on either gender or gender


The assumption that every culture has

standard or similar male-female divisions of

characteristics might lead to building a gender

based on stereotypes (Hamilton 2004). These

might influence on how men and women are

viewed today and how their roles are

determined in every aspects of life such as

family, politics, or academe. Hamiltons study

on figurines has a plausible argument that the

traditional assumptions of archaeologists have

made conclusions that are inaccurate and

lacks credibility.

This is an important consideration since these

kind of assumptions lead to opposing views

damaging or overrating either gender especially

women who has been, for a long time, regarded

as subordinate to men.

List of References

Blintiff, J. L. (2004) A Companion to

Archaeology. United Kingdom: Blackwell

Publishing Ltd. Gilchrist, R. (1999) Gender and

Archaeology: Contesting the Past. Taylor &

Francis. Hamiton, S. M. (2004) Gender in

Archaeology. Rowman Altamira. Nelson, S. M.

(2006) Handbook of Gender in Archaeology.

Rowman Altamira Shaw, I. and Jameson, R.

(2000) A Dictionary of Archaeology. United

Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell