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Even your fingerprints are gendered

I’ve spent all day at a Zoom prehistory conference. Again. Last one on my schedule.

One of the most interesting talks was a woman who studies finger prints and marks on Iron Age clay pots.

She started by taking fingerprints from 350 modern people to make a baseline. Turns out, fingerprints are sexually dimorphic. I mean, yes, the taller you are the bigger your prints regardless of gender, but apparently you can tell the difference between the fingerprints of a large woman and a small man: the man’s ridges are thicker.

Then she had to calculate average height, which was 4% shorter in the Bronze Age and 6% shorter in the Iron Age. Agriculture shortened people (and lives) – less variety in the diet.

Finally, she had to take off another 6% for clay shrinkage during firing.

She studied two kinds of pots. The first were large cooking and storage pots that were decorated with finger-pokes. Some random, some in patterns. The second were roughly made, utilitarian troughs squished together and fired on the spot for the purposes of evaporating salt water into salt.

Turns out, the big pots were made and decorated entirely by women and children, some as young as five, and the salt troughs were slammed together entirely by men and teenage boys (the youngest was 12).

I love the mental image of Iron Age tots being encouraged to poke pots, randomly.

I hope the highly gendered roles stuck in some craws. Academics (I follow a lot of these same people on Twitter) are woke as hell these days.


Comment from Anonymous
Time: June 18, 2021, 9:41 pm

Salt making was manly work…still is. For years I drove past the SF Bay salt flats and never saw any women driving the salt harvesting equipment.

“the man’s ridges are thicker.” The jokes write themselves.

Sorry I’ll let myself out….

Comment from Mitch
Time: June 19, 2021, 2:41 am

Nonny Mouse,

I watched an excellent documentary on Amazon or Netflix last year about the history of salt making – fascinating stuff and VERY hard work since ancient times and still is in many areas of the world. I think it was called SALT. As you say, not many women involved in that process.

I do ceramics very occasionally myself. I have my own wheel, kiln, glazes and everything but so very little spare time. One of the things I love about ceramics is that intense connection with our ancient past.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 19, 2021, 10:15 am

Mitch, I feel that way about cutting up vegetables. I feel literally connected to all my foremothers cutting up vegetables.

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: June 20, 2021, 2:51 am

I feel the connection when I mend clothing and linens. I stitch, patch, or darn as necessary—and see my mother sitting in her little upholstered rocker with her mending basket beside her. One of my favorite possessions is a real linen bedsheet ca.1920 that was part of my grandmother’s wedding linens. It’s been patched, darned, and rehemmed until it’s no more than a large lap robe, and I use it at my living room chair. All three of us have set stitches in that sheet.

Comment from Oceania
Time: June 20, 2021, 10:52 am

Could you tell which gender they were? :p

Comment from BJM
Time: June 20, 2021, 4:08 pm

@Deborah Handmade and/or passed down linens are family treasures. My Gran and aunties were quilters and I have fond memories of winter nights spent stitching away although I’m crap at hand sewing. Funny you should post this, we Stoatians seem to do this quite often. I’ve been sorting through a stack of linens I seldom use…time for them to go to a new home.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: June 20, 2021, 11:52 pm

How do you feel about railroad sleeper car wool blankets from the 1940s being handed down?

Comment from BJM
Time: June 21, 2021, 3:15 am

@Durned…they make awesome backyard tents and wigwams.

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