Claassen and Rosemary A. Joyce, Eds. Women in Prehistory; North America and Mesoamerica. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press: 1997.

An interesting overview of the kind of work that is being done or could be done. None of the articles were so jargon-laden or issue-centered that it (they) could not be understood by an average reader in another discipline; and that quality of openness I found refreshing and very helpful.

Women in Ancient Americas: Archaeologists, Gender, and the Making of a Prehistory
Rosemary A. Joyce and Cheryl Claassen

I. Women in the Archaeological Record

2. Woman the Hunter: Ethnoarchaeological Lessons from Chipewyan Life-Cycle Dynamics
Hetty Jo Brumbach and Robert Jarvenpa

Women hunt, but typically smaller game and closer to home than men do. Some women, however, took on the entire responsibility for hunting for their families, and some also sought larger game like moose. Those with husbands are more likely to hunt in early and later marriage, times at which child-rearing responsibilities are lighter. Women have "high-investment" tool sets for processing game, and they tend to learn hunting skills from their mothers and grandmothers. The study balances census material and interviews to correct the idea that women do not hunt.

3. Women's Work, Women's Space and Women's Status Among the Classic-Period Maya Elite of the Copan Valley, Honduras
Julie A. Hendon

Hendon studies the "interplay between social organization, the use of space, and building construction and decoration…." She identified activities that could be attributed to women and examined the spatial distribution of these activities within Sepultura's residential patios in order to gain insight into elite women's economic and social roles in Copan society (quote and paraphrase 33). Using floor deposits, small finds and midden from three compounds, she determined that high ranking women carried out textile and food production within linked living spaces. Gender is linked to direction and action in monumental public or political space, and this link creates an ideological message. Such links are not found in domestic space. Women's work in textile and food production was carried on in conjunction other types of economic production, and this suggests that women were not confined in their work. The work itself was gendered, however. So Hendon suggests that there may have been parallel power structures for men and women, and also that production in households may have functioned as a decentralizing force.
(These two conclusions may be quite valid, but in my mind they do not follow from the data presented.)

4. Where Have All the Menstrual Huts Gone? The Invisibility of Menstrual Seclusion in the Late Prehistoric Southwest
Patricia Galloway

If matrilineal and matrilocal sites have menstrual "huts," there where are all the Southwestern archaeological remains? We have not found them because we have not looked, and we have not looked because menstruation is connected to a shame/pollution concept in our culture. So where are these structures? What did the occupants do? First, Galloway suggests that if women spent about 1/5 of their life in such places, and if women held power in society, it is more likely that these structures were substantial than that they were flimsy, as previously supposed. We may wish to re-examine sites and buildings to see if we have mis-labeled or overlooked the possible use of a permanent structure. We should look for a liminal house with specialized or ritual activities and menses in the midden. Galloway's article made me think, and I suppose it might lead to a re-interpretation of formerly-excavated sites.

II. Prehistoric Women as Social Agents

5. Changing Venue: Women's Lives in Prehistoric North America
Cheryl Claassen

A bibliographic essay organized by geography. Studies are summarized and outstanding questions are raised. The areas, in the order of presentation, are Northeast /MidAtlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Plains, California and Great Basin, Northwest Coast and Plateau, Southwest, and Arctic. Claassen notes that division of labor and sex roles are two distinct things. Among the conclusions: women have "huge tracts of" agency. Sex roles change with changes in food acquisition. She offers a few warnings: the !Kung model of foraging may not be applicable elsewhere; the association of burial goods with the life of the deceased may not be direct or clear; the formation process (?) must be understood, and in matters of diet and material acquisitions, class and status tend to override sex differences. For someone entering the field of gender studies, this is a terrific place to start.

6. Warfare, Women and Households: The Development of Iroquois Culture
Susan C. Prezzano

Prezzano focuses on male aggression and the status of women in Iriquois society. She asks, how was Iriquois culture shaped? Studies have centered on Iriquois warfare in part because of early Jesuit account, and in part because of the successful Beaver Wars, and in part because they retained tribal cohesiveness until the Revolutionary War. Women also attracted attention because of Iriquois matrilocal matrilineal culture. Women had some political power and strong influence over the domestic sphere (complementary position in society.) There is some question about whether Iriquois migrated from the West or developed in situ. When did the "modern" form of social and political organization begin to develop - about 1000 AD? And when was the pan-tribal League of Iriquois established? Were these development influenced by agriculture? Whallon (1968) linked ceramic variation with social interaction: he noticed that women's pottery became more homogenous and he suggested that with the rise of tribes and matrilocality, women moved around less. These various archaeological explanatory models use either warfare or women's status to demonstrate Iriquois superiority (success as compared) to other tribes. Prezzano disagrees with the theory that change in pottery styles/forms only occurred when captive or strange women were brought into the village. This notion denies general creative agency to women (and possible, captives would change to fit in with the new society, and avoid using foreign and possibly displeasing patterns).
Prezzano also thinks that inadequate attention has been paid to individual households as the center of change in agriculture (not the reflector of it).

7. Changes in Regional Exchange Relationships During the Pithouse-to-Pueblo Transition in the American Southwest: Implications for Gender Roles
Alison E. Rautman

During the (980-1250) Pithouse to Pueblo in central New Mexico, exchange networks and maize consumption changed. These social and economic changes are reflected in the spatial distribution of pottery. Changes in the structural scale of the social context of events allows for 1) more roles for people to assume; 2) more differentiated roles around one task; 3) a greater number of layers in the hierarchy of levels; 4) more different kinds of "event-types," each with its own associated group of roles. Regarding 1) and 2), gender roles are affected (hardened) by the intensification of production and economic specialization that comes with changes to 1) and 2). Households reflect regional change. Social networks maintain ties to resources and buffer against expected environmental variation. (106)

8. Gender, Diet, Health and Social Status in the Mississippian Powers Phase Turner Cemetery Population
Diane Wilson

Who gets to eat what and how often expresses social organization. The Missouri Powers Fort cemetery shows a disproportionate number of female deaths (?) and a greater disparity in diet between women than that between men. Some women ate better food altogether than the rest. Some women also had more grave goods and were buried centrally (with others). The conclusion is that women hold positions of importance and may have anchored clans. This group may have been matrilineal, producing and distributing food to favor women.

9. The Archaeology of Maize, Pots and Seashells: Gender Dynamics in Late Woodland and Contact-Period
Mary Beth Williams and Jeffrey Bendremer

New England archaeologists adhere to New Archaeology, which argues that external forces are responsible for social change. Our authors suggest that the Late Woodland period is hard to understand using this theory, and the contact period is dominated by male-centric documents. Female-related activities - shellfish gathering and consumption, trade with Europe and making pottery - are inadequately explored. If human agency is accepted, then group and regional diversity will show up (as they do) in settlement and subsistence patterns and gender will no longer be buried. What did pre-context agriculture include? Debate rages. Shellfishing was first and important -very important - increasing with (potential) maize planting. Gender relations see-sawed over important trade goods. Power accrued to the producers of corn, wampum, shellfish and furs.

III. The Symbolic Construction of Gender

10. Weaving and the Iconography of Prestige: The Royal Gender Symbolisms of Lord 5 Flower's / Lady 4 Rabbit's Family
Byron Hamann

An analysis of dynastic imagery of Zaachila, a 300 year old Zapotec-Mixtec house in power in Oxaca at the time of the Spanish Conquest. The contents of Monte Alban's tomb, the Codex Nutall, Tomb 1 and 2 at Zaachila and the palace architecture of Mitla are all used to creat Hamann's story. There was an emphasis on spinning and weaving by high-ranking females. Four tools are pictured: spindle whorl, spinning bowl, batten and pick. Repetitions and presence in so many sites indicate that female labor was high-status as were the weavings and the women. Also, the iconography presents balanced pairs and possibly male-female equality. [This particular] woman's family was of great importance in the Mixtec dynasty.

11. The Third Gender in Native California: Two-Spirit Undertakers Among the Chumash and Their Neighbors
Sandra E. Hollimon

Two spirits were regularly identified in Southern Californian tribes (as well as others in North America). The data on 2-Spirits is fragmented because the practice was suppressed by Catholics. Many 2-Spirits served as mourners, undertakers and shamans. Some may have been "gender-variant" during undertaking. In some cases, men or women also were undertakers. 2-Spirits prepared burials and themselves might be identified with special third gender accoutrements. They are also figured as cannibals (c.f. Benedict for a discussion of this aspect of culture)

12. Gendered Goods: The Symbolism of Maya Hierarchical Exchange Relations
Susan D. Gillespie and Rosemary A. Joyce

Gender ideology as classification assumes complementary opposites or possible asymmetry and hierarchy. Using Southeast Asian cultures as a model, Mayans might have use gender as socio-cosmic categories and relationships. Giver-receiver relationships and other dualities are common. "Houses" created di-morphic gendered give and take relationships. Exteriorizing females (offering wives) provided a house with a male role. Taking on a powerful wife made the receiving house female. Unity and houses are split and healed via marriage. Gillspie and Joyce argue that the Mayas likely reversed the role of giving and taking. Wife providers would be female, and wife receivers would be male. Wife providers were superior and possibly rulers - and this action was gendered female. (The evidence for this point seemed thin to me). They also note that stools, shields, cocoa and knives are gendered male; cloth and stones are female.

IV. The Material Construction of Gender

13. Earth Mothers, Warriors, Horticulturalists, Artists, and Chief: Women Among the Mississippian and Mississippian-Oneota Peoples, A.D. 1211-1750
Lyle Koehler

Koehler lists a variety of Earth-Mother figurines from Illinois and Missouri. There are rock-art symbols for vulva and women warriors on shell gorgets (probably). Clothing also indicated sex (shirts and straight hair). Women participated in feasts which allowed sexual license and also served as chiefs or leaders, sometimes in partnership with a brother. Women participated in warfare and torture and were themselves killed and occasionally eaten. Women and men in marriage could be at war because of adultery (among the consequences were gang-rape, nose-slitting and destruction of possessions]. Divorce was easy and common. Travel and trade were OK for women, but language and tasks were gendered. Flint knapping was done by women, and, of course, pottery. Women did not participate in men's games and did not hunt big game. Perhaps, says Koehler, with such a range of activities, and the likelihood of status and power, women resisted European Christianity. They said they did not want to go to the land of the European dead and lose their friends and kin, and it was said of them, that they retained their culture most obstinately.

14. Figurines and Social Identities in Early Sedentary Societies of Coastal Chiapas, Mexico, 1550-800 B.C.
Richard G. Lesure

Figurines represent social categories and social difference - in presence and absence - and so can be used to develop hypotheses about social identities in pre-Christian Mexico. Lesure documents about 760 samples from this region. He argues that fat mashed big-bellied armed figures are elders (and not, say, teletubbies) and slender breasted armless headless figurines represent young women. These figurines are buried together in houses representing … what? Lesure advances, tentatively, that elders matter more and can do more. They control households, kin relationships and the giving away of young women. Young men, recipients and suppliants only, need no representation. When seated nude males replace the fat mashed elders, society was probably changing.