- Researchers examined stone tools found in the graves of Neolithic communities
- They found the different tools corresponded to the graves of men and women
- Female graves had tools for skins and hides and male for hunting and butchery
- The team say both sets of jobs are equally strenuous and important to the groupFarmers in the Neolithic period had different jobs based on their gender, with men responsible for hunting and women for leatherwork, a new study of tools reveals.
Scientists from the University of York analysed 400 stone objects found in graves dating back 5,000 years to when farming first started to spread across Europe.
Their results show that tools found in female graves were most likely used for the working of animal skins and hide, whereas those in male graves were associated with hunting, woodwork, butchery, and potential conflict.Study author Dr Penny Bickle says this shows how 'the different roles of men and women were a crucial part of the transition to farming in human societies'.
The UK team say the division of labour based on biological sex seen in these findings is not a sign of gender inequality within those ancient societies. '
'Gendered roles actually show how dynamic farming societies were and how aware they were of the different skills of members of their community,' Dr Bickle said.
'The tasks attributed to women were difficult manual work and complemented the work of the men as equal contributors to their community.
'The fact that you see these objects in the graves of men and women, demonstrates how marked out and valued they were for these jobs.'
The researchers also found geographic variations in these results, hinting gender-based division of labour may have shifted as agricultural practices spread west.In the east, there is evidence to suggest women moved around more than men, the experts said, with men moving about more in the west.
The team noted differences in size, weight, and raw material dependent on whether the body was a male or a female.
Archaeologists had previously believed that polished stone tools in the Neolithic period were used for woodworking, but analysis now shows a much wider range of tasks - with different activities for men and women.
The researchers concluded that the different roles of men and women were a 'crucial' part of the transition to farming in human societies.
Alba Masclans Latorre, a postdoctoral researcher from Barcelona and study lead, said the roles and contributions of women to early societies is often downplayed.
'Here we show that they took an active role in shaping early farming communities,' the researcher said, adding it was so important their activities were marked in death.
'We see the same in the graves of men, suggesting that there were indeed specific gendered roles, but all of these jobs were hugely significant to the proper functioning of their society.'
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE.