Anthropologists suggest that cooperation between men and women may have been crucial for survival in hunter-gatherer tribes.
An anthropological study from the University College of London suggests that gender equality might not be such a new idea. In fact, our early ancestors may have had it more figured out than we do now.
According to the Guardian, contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes likely had more balanced gender roles than once previously thought. Anthropologist Mark Dyble examined the genealogies of modern day hunter-gatherer communities in the Congo and the Philippines to gain insight into the way they organized their families over years. The hunter-gatherers lived in groups of about 20 people, and changed their location every ten days or so. They followed game and fish, and searched for fruit, vegetables and honey.
The team collected its data through hundreds of interviews with the tribes. They then developed a computer model that simulated the formation of these 20-person groups based on information received about family history many generations back.
Tracing the lineage of hunter-gatherers shines light on how these populations assigned responsibilities between the genders. Dyble suggests that cooperation between men and woman was a survival advantage and played a crucial role in the development of modern society. The study found that when only one gender had influence over the “camp assortment” process, small, tight-knit family units tended to cover the landscape.
When both men and women had influence on the tribe assignment process, however, family trees were more complex and numerous. A cooperative society was objectively more diverse than a male-dominated one. According to Dyble, sexual equality “gives you a far more expansive social network with a wider choice of mates, so inbreeding would be far less of an issue. And you come into contact with more people and can share your innovations.”
Balance between the sexes was an important survival mechanism for hunter-gatherer tribes, but it tapered off as agriculture began to emerge. As humans began to accumulate resources, a strong pattern of alliances between males became the norm. The findings in the study were supported by observations of the present-day hunter-gatherers, where men and women contribute to the tribe more or less equally.
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