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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Possibilities of Women and Men: Gender and the California Milling Stone Horizon


Traditional formulations of gender, as they have been applied to prehistoric subsistence practices and work organization in California, have sometimes served to mask or obfuscate aspects of adaptive variation. This is particularly true of more ancient lifeways, such as those subsumed under the Milling Stone Horizon, that are not so easily recognized in the cultural landscape of ethnographic California. In this paper, it is argued that gender organization was much less circumscribed during the Milling Stone Horizon; the procurement and processing of major plant and animal staples were the domain of comparatively heterogeneous task groups, incorporating men, women, and children. In the face of mid-Holocene environmental stress, and dispersed but increasingly dense populations, a demographically inclusive, low-bulk foraging strategy may have provided a reasonable solution to the challenges of food gathering. Further, this lack of polarity in gender relationships had social and ideological dimensions, manifested in the absence of explicit gender referents in burial associations. The dynamics of gender and its relationship to work organization are considered crucial to the understanding of prehistoric culture change in California.

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