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Archeologists Say We Can Blame the Patriarchy on Meat

A new study found that men started to dominate once they increased the meat in their diets, while women ate mostly grains.

by Mitchell Sunderland
14 May 2017, 7:15am

Photo by Kirsty Begg via Stocksy

This article originally appeared on Broadly.

Over the past year, paleo diets have joined the ranks of food trends like juicing, appearing in many women's sites including this one. Paleo practitioners eat meat, fruit, and vegetables, aiming to recreate the eating behaviors of our ancestors the cavemen. A recent study discussed in Scientific American blights old diets, associating some of civilization's early food habits with men's power over women.

The study was originally published in the the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in January. CUNY archaeology professor Kate Pechenkina started her research to analyze how certain foods were introduced to China. She focused on the end of the Neolithic Period (roughly 2000 BC) and beginning of the Bronze Age (around 1700 BC). In a phone call, she describes her findings as "very unexpected." Gender was not on her mind. "I expected [all] diets to be fairly wheat based," she explains.

The gender news emerged when Pechenkina and her colleagues analyzed the bones of Chinese people who lived roughly 10,000 years ago. According to Scientific American, bone tissues' nitrogen signature highlighted a reliance on meat, and a carbon signature correlated to wheat-based diets. Early findings matched Pechenkina hypothesis—both men and women depended on wheat in the Neolithic Period—but bones show a huge shift by the dawn of the Bronze Age.

"We discovered very unexpectedly that female diets are very affected by wheat and barley, but male diets stay the same with high proportion of animal products," Pechenkina says.

In other words, they had taken on macho eating habits that define much of masculinity to this day while their female counterparts continued to eat wheat-based foods. "This was very surprising for us," Pechenkina notes. "We started to look into equality and historical sources to make sense of the findings."

Nobody has ever associated wheat products with developing muscle, let alone power, and Scientific American places this shift in the context of women's lives in the Bronze Age.

People buried women with less treasures than men in China starting in that era; and that shift, new eating habits, and the conclusion of the Bronze Age all coincided with the time of the "Warring States." Dynasties were using war to build their governments, and wars thrived across the country. In the Chinese economy, men fought for their rights to the prized metals that gave the Bronze Age its name. Fights and manly dominance defined the era, and according to Scientific American, society idolized warrior men for their macho attributes.

Without a time machine or discovery of more written records, academics will probably never know exactly why men took on more complicated eating patterns at the end of the Neolithic Period and start of the Bronze Age. Nobody can trace the true root to men overtaking women. It's clear though that women got stuck with weak wheat as their societal capabilities diminished, and they could have used a paleo diet.