Admittedly, referring to our ancient ancestors as “cavemen” reflects a modern bias. They included cavewomen, too, so perhaps “cave people” is a better way to acknowledge the egalitarian nature of Paleolithic society.
We have a notion that cavemen were hairy, brusque and burly men that called the shots. We think of their groups as headed by a dominant alpha-male with absolute power.
On the other hand, the womenfolk have been portrayed as gatherers of berries, who were by and large relegated to seemingly less strenuous tasks.
And lest we forget, the females have often been portrayed in popular culture as recipients of ritual clubbings on the head—love taps, or so we thought.
In reality, however, the bands of cavemen … people … that thrived during the Paleolithic Era were quite egalitarian and surprisingly nurturing.
They relied mostly on communal decisions within their tribes of hunter-gatherers, and they apparently took special care of their elders.
If there was any form of subordination, it was that the individual was viewed as less important than the community as a whole.
In fact, what should come as good news to today’s feminists, the very earliest recording of a Paleolithic shaman was not a sha-man at all but a sha-woman!
Apparently, specialization of societal tasks is a fairly recent phenomenon. Our ancient ancestors were believed to be individually adept in the various skills necessary for survival during those times.
That meant each member of the tribe pitched in wherever needed and was multi-skilled. The women hunted when necessary; the men also gathered wild plants and fruits for the tribe.
Food and supplies were evenly distributed among the members of the band. All in all, there was relative peace. Altruism and equality were essential to survive during these times.
Although violence occurred during struggles for mates or resources, it was more beneficial for the different bands to be trading and sharing resources among themselves than to be fighting.
From this knowledge, we could come to the conclusion that modern human behavior isn’t really that far removed from ancient society. The emancipation of women and the “domestication” of men may actually be ancient traits.
If so, that means there’s a good chance that true equality of the sexes could someday make a comeback, too.
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