Reconstructing sexual divisions of labor from fingerprints on Ancestral Puebloan pottery
An understanding of the division of labor in different societies, and especially how it evolved in the human species, is fundamental to most analyses of social, political, and economic systems. The ability to reconstruct how labor was organized, however, especially in ancient societies that left behind few material remains, is challenged by the paucity of direct evidence demonstrating who was involved in production. This is particularly true for identifying divisions of labor along lines of age, sex, and gender, for which archaeological interpretations mostly rely upon inferences derived from modern examples with uncertain applicability to ancient societies. Drawing upon biometric studies of human fingerprints showing statistically distinct ridge breadth measurements for juveniles, males, and females, this study reports a method for collecting fingerprint impressions left on ancient material culture and using them to distinguish the sex of the artifacts’ producers. The method is applied to a sample of 985 ceramic sherds from a 1,000-y-old Ancestral Puebloan community in the US Southwest, a period characterized by the rapid emergence of a highly influential religious and political center at Chaco Canyon. The fingerprint evidence demonstrates that both males and females were significantly involved in pottery production and further suggests that the contributions of each sex varied over time and even among different social groups in the same community. The results indicate that despite long-standing assumptions that pottery production in Ancient Puebloan societies was primarily a female activity, labor was not strictly divided and instead was likely quite dynamic.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Kantner, J., McKinney, D., Pierson, M., Wester, S. (2019) Reconstructing Sexual Divisions of Labor from Fingerprints on Ancestral Puebloan Pottery. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(25), 12220-12225.