DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

Gender relations in the Neolithic: biology, societies, symbols – NEOGENRE

Submission summary

"Gender" is a critical construct in the analysis of social relationships between men and women by the social sciences. Universal factors of social structuring, the modes of gender expression are, by definition, extremely variable. They constitute, in this manner, a pertinent tool for characterizing human societies throughout time and space.
The NEOGENRE project aims to shed light on the role of sexual dimorphism within the organization of European Neolithic populations, which were among the first complex and ostensibly hierarchical societies (5th millennium BC). By documenting the biological, social and symbolic relationships between men and women, the aim of the project is two-fold. On a societal level, it endeavors to grasp the discriminatory dynamics of the expressions of gender. From an anthropological and biological standpoint, it seeks to evaluate the inter-population variability of sexual dimorphism in relation to environmental, natural and cultural factors.
In order to be fruitful, the issue of gender in archeology must adopt a holistic approach. The different analytical dimensions of the male-female relationship, as explored by Gender Studies, must be mobilized in order to address notions of inequality and power dynamics that the concept encompasses. In this manner, the NEOGENRE project aspires to study the manifestations of difference, as well as shed light upon a wide variety of spheres of Neolithic life, such as ideology, power, activities, diet, health, etc.
By establishing a complete and solid analysis of the archaeological object of study in the broadest sense (cultural and biological), the chosen methodology is based on bio-archeology. It consists of a multivariate approach combining statistical analysis of biological and cultural variables, extracted by adapted investigative tools. The analysis of the human remains will be inclusive (morphological, paleo-pathological, isotopic and paleo-genetic) and the cultural data, backed by funerary context, will be drawn from specialized and direct analysis of the burials and the grave goods.
Two target populations have been selected for this project. Both originate from perfectly mastered archaeological contexts and are adapted to the hypothesis in the light of preliminary results. The corpus (of 160 and 120 individuals) dates back to the 5th millennium BC. One collection comes from the Paris Basin, within the context of the first monumental burials of Europe, and the other originates from the Rhine basin, and presents no superstructure. The project brings together a multidisciplinary consortium whose theoretical, methodological and technical expertise addresses the three primary structural elements of the scientific program: biological man, Neolithic societies and gender studies.
The NEOGENRE program will allow for a quantification of the magnitude and inter-population variability of biological differences between men and women (size, morphology, pathology) according to the egalitarian or disparate nature of dietary behaviors, physical activities, health conditions, as well as geographic mobility over the course of life. This data, which may shed light on the nature of the selective pressures involved in the phenotypic expression of sexual dimorphism, will make it possible to discuss the "biological costs" induced by unequal social practices, a novel evolutionary socio-biological approach to archaeological material. Moreover, by proposing a consideration of the representation of and social relationships between the sexes, as well as by cataloguing what defines masculine and feminine within Neolithic societies, this project seeks to allow for a reliable construction of a prehistoric dimension and depth to studies of gender and their interpretations.

Project coordinator

Madame Aline THOMAS (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


MNHN - UMR 7206 EAE Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle

Help of the ANR 247,273 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2018 - 36 Months

Useful links