Distorting the Past


Gender and the Division of Labor in the European Upper Paleolithic

Date of publication: November 2005
in English


ISBN: 978-3-935751-02-5 Categories: , ,


Table of Contents as PDF

Linda R. Owen’s Distorting the Past breaks new ground and does what a book rarely does in helping us to correct our off-kilter assumptions. She leaves us with a Paleolithic world that is not populated exclusively by prominent, flint-knapping men who kill mammoths, horses and reindeer. At the same time she does not create a polemically dictated Paleolithic dream-world of across-the-board matriarchal dominance. Instead, while staying rigorously close to her sources, Owen shows that the past was inhabited by diverse kinds of people, who responded to specific settings and problems in manifold ways. In these contexts women were at times hunters, fishers, craftspeople, collectors, shamans, killers, educators, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. In this more balanced view of hunting and gathering societies, men and children are also central actors, and we begin to see Paleolithic life in which the myths that generations of scholars have helped to create are no longer the only illuminated points.

– Nicholas J. Conard, Series Editor

This volume analyzes the possibilities of applying the concept of gender, the social construct of sex, to the Upper Paleolithic of Europe. Special emphasis is placed on the division of labor, specifically the procurement of food and raw materials and the manufacture and use of implements, as I believe that these topics can be investigated successfully within the limits of the archeological record.

– Linda Owen, Author


… I believe Distorting the Past will be of great importance not only for Paleolithic scholars and researchers, but also for those working on ethnography and in the field of cultural anthropology in general…

– Marta Camps, Paleoanthropology 2008: 91-92.

Owen’s experimentally-based study of the German Magdalenian is designed … to draw out the role of female individuals from the dogmatic picture of male hunters she believes still underpins our attitude to Upper Palaeolithic archaeology.
… we should ‘unbias’ our reconstructions and consider both the role of women and the use of material culture for non traditional tasks…
… the strength of Owen’s work is to reorient our interpretative biases and recognise the Magdalenian as the broad-spectrum and culturally complex adaptation it was.

– Paul Pettitt, Antiquity 81 (2007): 1083-108

… she [Owen] describes subtle evidence of gender bias in the views of both male and female anthropologists…
… Owen tires her best to refute the longstanding downplaying of plant, fish, and small mammals… This section is a trove of information mined by the author from the primary sources—down to the use of bird and fish skins in clothing. Every prehistorian should read this substantial section to refresch his/her notions about resouircefulness of forager men and women living under some of the toughest conditions.
… The book concludes with a scathing (but always calmly empirical) refutation of the increasingly popular notion that men’s and women’s brains are “hard-wired” differently.
… This is no rabid feminist tract, but a careful, empirically based, soberly written, serious account of how the record has been badly distorted—however unconsciously—by generations of archaeologists up to the late twentieth century.

– Lawrence G. Straus, Journal of Anthropological Research (2006)

Die Verfasserin vertritt die These, dass die notorische Überbewertung des Anteils der Männer bzw. Unterbewertung des Anteils der Frauen an der Subsistenzsicherung über ethnographische Analogien in das archäologische Denken gelangt sei und bereits die ethnographischen Studien einen großen Gender-Bias aufweisen.
Das “urgeschichtliche Geschlechtermodell” erfüllt eine gesellschaftliche Funktion, die es zu reflektiern gilt – und diese Reflektion wird im vorliegenden Buch angestoßen. Neben den wissenschaftlich anregenden Ergebnissen ist es dieser Punkt, der das Buch so lesenswert macht.

– Brigitte Röder, Ethnographisch-Archäologische Zeitschrift (2005)

Additional information


Linda R. Owen


Harcover, 17,6 x 24,5 cm, 248 pages, 36 illustrations, 7 tables



This publication does not have open access chapters (yet).