Sort & Cull

Ancient Field Hands and Modern Decency

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

Even with harvest chores essentially put to bed and tons of shopping days left to fritter away before Christmas, I'm guessing that not many of you have found time this week to give the Neolithic Revolution much serious thought.

Not to worry. I think I've pretty much covered the late-year bases in that regard thanks to two sources of reflection: 1) a new study published in the journal Science Advances (and reported by NPR, where I heard it) on the bone structure of prehistoric women; and 2) the unfolding uproar of sexual harassment in the workplace.

When considered back-to-back, I came away with the painful reminder of how real progress seems to crawl like a snail high on tryptophan.

Indeed, some things never seem to change.

But before we get into details, let's review the exact meaning of "Neolithic Revolution." That's the term commonly used by academics to identify the moment in the mist of time when our species switched from hunting-and-gathering to farming as the primary means of keeping body and soul together. While global dating varies, archaeologists generally agree that the first sod between the Tigris and Euphrates was busted around 10,000 BC.

This opinion may be ahead of science, behind it, or totally disconnected, but I've always thought that the advantages of consistently farming a rich river valley over the crap-shoot of a hunting expedition dawned on the female mind long before it managed to drill through the thick skull of her primitive hubby.

Surely one doesn't need to be a radical feminist to recognize that women have historically shouldered the lion's share of the day-to-day workload (i.e., excluding war and chores requiring extreme strength).

From childcare to housekeeping to underpaid laborer, the average woman clearly burns more work calories on a daily basis than her male counterpart.

The old couplet "A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done" should probably be considered less a smarmy tribute to "Mom" and more a sad statement how patriarchy has traditionally commandeered the HR department.

Which leads to the fascinating research of archaeologist Alison Macintosh at the University of Cambridge. A life-long student of ancient agriculture, Macintosh has dedicated years studying the bones of the earliest farmers ever found.

As you can imagine, early farming was a major grunt parade. With no green paint to be found, people were basically discing and tilling with wooden sticks and stones. When she studied the bones of ancient men, she could see signs of this strenuous work: "We saw these really big, quite strong leg bones in the early farming men kind of up around what you see in living cross-country runners."

On the other hand, when the bones of ancient women were compared to ancient men, the women looked like they were couch potatoes. Macintosh thought this couldn't be right.

So she decided to do something revolutionary. Professor Macintosh focused just on women and decided to compare the ancient women bones to those of women today, including athletes like rowers. Then it became clear. These ancient women weren't weak. Indeed, they had really muscle-bound arms.

"On average, they had stronger arms, both left and right arms, than the rowers, dedicated athletes who worked their arms hard for 20 hours a week. These findings show that ancient women were doing huge amounts of strenuous labor on early farms, more than previously thought."

By insisting that apples be truly compared to apples (i.e., female physiology to female physiology), Macintosh says there's no doubt women were right next to men in the field, equally defining the sweat and blood of agriculture.

Makes sense to me. Even without looking at one humerus.

Now set the time machine for 2017. You might think that after 12 long millennia, men and women would have managed greater honesty and fairness with a work environment they share more intensely than ever before.

Judging by the recent caveman behavior of Weinstein, Louis CK, Rose, Moore, Conyers, and Lauer, apparently not.

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