Gender, Households, and Society: An Introduction



A critical strength of the discipline of archaeology is that its access to the material record of human history extends well beyond the written record and includes societies and cultures unaffected by Western colonialism and capitalist penetration. Bringing to light the social relations of earlier time periods, archaeology plays a critical role in documenting the full range of human variation, a role that cannot be filled by ethnography, history, or ethnohistory with their shorter temporal spans. By questioning essentialist notions of binary gender systems, gender research in archaeology can lead to a reevaluation of long-standing disciplinary assumptions about the nature of household organization, subsistence and craft production, ritual performance, and the structure of ancient states. The materiality of gender relations and gender identities in the archaeological record allows archaeologists to conduct historical comparisons of ancient, ethnohistoric, and ethnographic time periods to document changes as well as continuities in human social conditions. In so doing, archaeologists are able to expose ancient social scenarios that are distinctive from contemporary arrangements and thus widen the scope of the social sciences.