Article by Ehrenberg

Abstract

            Margaret Ehrenberg (1989) offers a new theory of hominid evolution, making special emphasis on the matrifocal character of early social formations. Food collection patterns, the division or labor, tool-using, and social changes have ultimately resulted in the formation of the two distinct images – that of the “Man the Hunter” and that of the “Woman the Gatherer”.

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Article by Ehrenberg

            In her article, Margaret Ehrenberg (1989) offers a new theory of hominid evolution, making special emphasis on the matrifocal character of early social formations (e.g. monogamous couple), and the importance of sex-role behaviors in the research of female role at the initial stages of hominid evolution. For decades, the role of a woman in the hominid evolution has been persistently disregarded, but now the time has come to re-consider the evidence, which support the assertion that early humans were matrifocal.

             Ehrenberg (1989) suggests that “the critical steps in human development were predominantly inspired by females”. In other words, the whole process of hominid evolution was colored with matrifocal tendencies, i.e. females played the central role in driving social, economic, and social innovations. Food collection patterns, the division or labor, tool-using, and social changes have ultimately resulted in the formation of the two distinct images – that of the “Man the Hunter” and that of the “Woman the Gatherer”. Man the Hunter was primarily responsible for devising weapons and hunting animals for food. Meanwhile, Woman the Gatherer was actively involved into gathering plant foods. Recent research findings refute the idea of hunting being the central element of hominid evolution, and refer to the importance of scavenging and plant foods; as a result, Woman the Gatherer has become an undoubtedly significant element of hominid evolution. The development of plant collection preferences was further followed by the distinct division of labor between the male and the female, where the need for child-bearing decreased female mobility and prevented her from hunting. In this context, mothering role of the female was further reinforced by the new type of infant caring that resulted in the development of a new mother-infant bonding. These mother-infant relations drove the emergence of closer bonds between siblings. Females were the first to react to environmental changes, creating the first form of a homebase where hominids could stay for the night. Hominids owed females for the development and use of containers. Ultimately, the development of friendly ties between the representatives of the two genders was the direct consequence of socialization, inspired and realized by females.

References

Ehrenberg, M.  (1989). The role of women in human evolution. From M. Ehrenberg, Women

in prehistory, the University of Oklahoma Press.

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