A new study reveals our distant ancestors may have been evolved in a way that later generations weren’t. Men and women in prehistoric paintings appear to have equal standing, rights and influence, and experts believe gender inequality and male dominance were caused by the emergence of agriculture.
Researchers at the University College London found that in the con temporary hunter-gatherer tribes human societies were not dominated by savage, macho stereotypes.
Instead, men and women both had a say on where their group lived and who they lived with, suggesting that gender equality is not at all a modern invention, but rather the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.
Cooperation and equality between sexes was a survival advantage that also became crucial in shaping human society and evolution as we know them. High cognition, cumulative culture and hyper-cooperation are all believed to have developed due to gender equality.
Mark Dyble, lead anthropologist on the study gave a statement saying that “Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organization, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans”. He stresses that the importance of the issue had never really been highlighted before.
For the study, published in the journal Science, researchers collected genealogical information from two different hunter-gatherer tribes from the Congo and the Philippines. They focused on kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns.
The theory was that while people in hunter-gatherer societies showed a strong preference for living with their families, in practice the groups they lived in only contained a few individuals who were closely related.
They found that tribes used to live in groups of roughly twenty members, moved away roughly every ten days, and subsisted on hunted game, fish and gathered fruit, vegetables and honey.
The researchers took testing even further by generating computer models that simulated the process of camp assortment, based on the belief that people would chose to populate camps with their own kin – siblings, parents, children.
They showed that when only one sex had a say in the decision making process, tight hubs of related individuals would emerge. It is important to note that the average number of related individuals was much lower when men and women had an equal influence. The results also matched what was seen in the two tribes that the researchers were studying.
Dyble informed that when only men have influence over who the groups of individuals are living with, the core of any community becomes a dense network of closely related men that have their spouses on the periphery. If men and women decide together, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.
In the two tribes studied by Dyble and his colleagues, close male relatives did not live together in the same group.
The team blames the emergence of agriculture for gender inequality saying that men were allowed to start having several wives and more children than women. It paid more for men to start accumulating resources and the social environment made it favorable for men to form alliances with male kin.
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