A A A

Gender and the Emergence of Villages, Cities and States in the Ancient Near East

Neolithic figurines

Women and the emergence of urban societies in the Near Eastern Neolithic

This project explores gender in the ancient Near East, in relation to the emergence of agriculture, villages, early cities and states

  • That the emergence of food production heralded changes in the sexual division of labour has been long suspected. Karen Wright's research has explored spatial distributions of food preparation as a possible measure of gender relations as agricultural villages evolved (Wright 2000). Specifically, a spatial restriction through time of food-processing artifacts is interpreted as circumscription and control of female activities. The working assumption of a link between women and food preparation is supported by texts and seals from early historic Mesopotamia (Wright 2000; 2007). The Near Eastern Neolithic suggests that as agricultural villages emerged, women were initially conducting food preparation activities in the open, on kitchen-porches or just beyond, at the boundary between household and neighbour. In the Late Pre-Pottery Neolithic, milling and cooking facilities were placed in much more restricted spaces and testify to the retreat of these activities into the private domestic domain. This change seems to coincide with evidence for increasingly private storage facilities (ie, private property). These patterns were first described for Neolithic sites in the Levant. Current research at Neolithic Çatalhöyük suggests comparisons and contrasts to these patterns.
  • An essay published in 2007 (Wright 2007) explores changes in the status of women as urban societies emerged in southern Mesopotamia, before, during and after the ‘urban revolution’ of the Uruk period. Sources of evidence are representational art, burials, and the earliest known written records. Analysis of data from Mesopotamia suggests that early urbanisation mounted an unprecedented challenge to ancient forms of authority and legitimacy based on kinship and marriage. This challenge involved new ways of controlling women, especially women of reproductive age. Methods of control included: ideological messages in visual art, notably an initial suppression of images of female sexuality in the earliest urban era (in contrast to previous eras); the development of early writing systems that classified men in terms of occupation and women in terms of sexuality; and coercion. The relationship between household and lineage is also explored and it is suggested that the household was the origin of central institutions in Mesopotamia. (Wright 2007)
  • This research is part of wider work on archaeology of gender (Hamilton, Whitehouse and Wright 2007)
Figurines of the Samarran culture
Figurines of the Ubaid and Ghassulian

Related outputs

Selected publications
  • Wright, K. I. 2007. Women and the emergence of urban society in Mesopotamia. In S. Hamilton, R. Whitehouse, & K. I. Wright (Eds.), Archaeology and Women: Ancient and Modern Issues.: 199-245. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Publications of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
  • Hamilton, S., Whitehouse, R., & Wright, K. I. (eds) 2007. Archaeology and Women: Ancient and Modern Issues. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Publications of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
  • Hamilton, S., Whitehouse, R., & Wright, K. I. 2007. Introduction. In R. Whitehouse, S. Hamilton, & K. I. Wright (Eds.), Archaeology and Women: Ancient and Modern Issues: 13-24. Walnut Creek, California: Left Coast Press, Publications of the Institute of Archaeology, University College London.
  • Wright, K. I. 2000. The social origins of cooking and dining in early villages of western Asia. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 66(1): 89-121.
  • Wright, K. I. (in press) Ground stone tools and technologies associated with Building 3 at Çatalhöyük (Chapter 16). In R. Tringham & M. Stevanovic (Eds.), House Lives: Building, Inhabiting, Excavating a House at Çatalhöyük, Turkey. Reports from the BACH Area, Çatalhöyük, 1997-2003: 16.1-16.14. Los Angeles: Monographs of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California at Los Angeles.
Public Conferences and Lectures
  • Wright, K. I. 2010. Lecture: Food preparation, consumption, craft production and Neolithic private property: insights from abraded stone technologies. Templeton Lecture presented at the Çatalhöyük dig house, July 2010.
  • Wright, K. I. 2006. Lecture: Rethinking gender in the Neolithic Near East. Edinburgh: Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for Near Eastern Archaeology, Edinburgh, 3-6 January 2006.
  • Wright, K. I. 2003. Lecture: Early representations of women in the Levant and Cyprus. London: Paper presented at the British Museum-Institute of Archaeology Day Conference: The Levant and Eastern Mediterranean Trade and Interaction, London, 4 November 2003.
Impact

Archaeology and Women (2007): global reach, high interdisciplinary significance in anthropology, women’s studies, archaeology, archaeological science

Funding

  • UCL

Bookmark and Share