Foster, Aimee, 2011. Gendered divisions of labour in Southeast Asian and Pacific Island Prehistory.
Within the theoretical framework of gender archaeology, this thesis aimed to provide new information about social organisation in Southeast Asian and Pacific Island prehistory. Archaeological skeletal material from five prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands was analysed in order to investigate the division of labour between males and females, as well as its variation in relation to environment and subsistence. This thesis represents one of only a few studies that have investigated gender and labour division in the prehistory of both regions, and fewer still have analysed skeletal remains for such a purpose.
The skeletal samples included in this thesis represent a broad range of temporal and geographic contexts within Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. All skeletal samples were associated with a mixed subsistence base of food production and foraging; however, the level of reliance on these resources varied between the groups.
The primary objective of this thesis was to identify differences between males and females in the expression of activity-related skeletal modifications (specifically entheseal change and osteoarthritis) that might relate to a gendered division of labour. This was achieved via direct comparison and through the use of exploratory cluster analysis. Entheses were analysed in groups representing muscles or ligaments acting on particular joints; in this way entheseal change and joint disease could be compared in order to identify corresponding patterns of change. The results of these analyses were also clarified by the consideration of other factors (age and body size) known to influence the expression of activity related change.
Associations observed between activity-related change, age and body size highlighted the multifactorial nature of entheseal change and osteoarthritis aetiologies; however, it was also observed that the effect of these variables was not consistent across enthesis groups or joints, or between skeletal samples. Sex was also identified as a variable that may influence the expression of activity-related change through inherent biological differences. These factors were acknowledged as caveats to the analysis of gendered divisions of labour.
Concurrent patterns of change between entheses and joints and corresponding results of direct sex comparisons and cluster analysis did, however, point to possible patterns of labour division in each sample. These patterns could be related to environment and subsistence but were also dependent on the cultural context. In the Southeast Asian samples different patterns of labour division were observed; these were linked to the relative diversity of subsistence resources and the degree to which agriculture was established.
Despite exploitation of broad subsistence bases, the Pacific Island skeletal samples demonstrated only a few differences between males and females that could be linked to gendered labour divisions. These findings were at odds with enthnographic, historical and linguistic sources, which describe distinct roles for males and females in Pacific Island societies. Alternate explanations were provided for this phenomenon. The types of activity- related change analysed might not be sufficiently sensitive to provide a detailed picture of task differentiation, so while labour levels appear to have been similar, it is possible that males and females in these skeletal samples did carry out different activities. It was also argued that distinctions between males and females inferred from other sources of evidence may not be accurate reflections of actual behaviour, and that patterns of behaviour have been subject to change over time.