Neandertal sexual division of labor

1 minute read

I've been reading the new paper by Steven Kuhn and Mary Stiner about Neandertal versus modern human organizational strategies. I'm taking a lot of notes about it, and have several reactions.

But first, let me just say this: ten years ago, we were arguing about whether Neandertals could hunt at all, or whether instead they were ineffective scavengers depending on carnivore handouts.

I suppose those days must be behind us, because now we read Neandertals were such committed big game hunters that they needed their females and kids to hunt along with them, which fatally compromised their ability to find and exploit small animals and plant foods.

Apparently it took some tropical mojo to make modern women realize they could eat plant foods like every other primate.

But then, one wonders how the Sima de los Huesos women managed to do what Neandertals couldn't...

UPDATE (12/5/2006): If you've come over by a link to this post, I have followed up with a second post that goes through the paper's argument in detail and provides some criticism. In case it wasn't obvious above, I think this idea doesn't work to explain Neandertal social behavior.


Kuhn SL, Stiner MC. 2006. What's a mother to do? The division of labor among Neandertals and modern humans in Eurasia. Curr Anthropol 47:953-980.

Pérez-Pérez A, Bermúdez de Castro JM, Arsuaga JL. 1999. Nonocclusal dental microwear analysis of 300,000-year-old Homo heidelbergensis teeth from Sima de los Huesos (Sierra de Atapuerca, Spain). Am J Phys Anthropol 108:433-457. Abstract