Homepage Timeline Maps A-Z index Learning

Gender: women in the administrative documents from Lahun

Roles of women in authority are not recorded explicitly in the papyri from Lahun - all managerial and bureaucratic titles are attested for men only. This confirms the evidence of the other manuscripts and hieroglyphic inscriptions of the period.

However, a rather different impression is obtained from examining in more detail the spheres of production in administrative records from Lahun:

  1. Production spheres for which records refer only to men as producers: Fishing; large-scale state works; crafts of stone/metal; pottery production
  2. Production spheres for which records refer only to women as producers: Textile production: compare the evidence from letters UC 32094A - example of 9 women turning flax into fine yarn (on one line a daughter, on another a sister and an unnamed third, possibly another sister?)
  3. Production spheres for which records refer to men and women as producers: Harvest

For each of these spheres the modern researcher may compare the evidence from visual depictions of this and other periods. Note that none of these activities are simple unitary tasks: all involve networks and sequences of actions, necessitating collaboration. Therefore our generalisations about production may be more about reinforcing binary gender roles in contemporary society, than about understanding the past societies and individuals. See Ströbeck 1999, on the problems of 'studying asymmetry, without implications of hierarchy', looking forward to 'gender studies of task differentiation which notice age-linked sexual differentiation, [kinship-] group activity, co-operation between men and women, and the existence of non-gendered tasks and activities'.

There are also two partly duplicate lists (one is shorter than the other) recording goods taken in a levy, of which only one item, in the longer list, is gendered - the 'seal of a woman'. This recalls the evidence of seal-amulets and seal impressions from Lahun: the single largest group (38) of seal impressions from one seal belonged in fact to a woman, identified in the hieroglyphs on the seal as the lady of the house Ite - however, this is not necessarily an index of wider economic activity, as Ann Foster has shown from study of the reverse of the seal impressions that they come from sealing of probably the same small box (compare the box containing valuables, in the lists of levied items).



Copyright © 2000 University College London. All rights reserved.