A new analysis suggests that women made some of the oldest-known cave art paintings. This study offers a radically new interpretation of art, ancient gender roles, and how modern scholars interpret the past. (National Geographic News)
Use our resources to explore how art influences and documents our lives.
- Read the first set of directions in our activity “Gender Roles in Jewish and Muslim Cultures,” which outlines a brainstorm of what gender roles are and how they’re developed. Do you think there are traditional gender roles within the arts?
- Sure there are.
- Painting is often more associated with male artists—and female models. (Just ask the Guerrilla Girls.) Why do you think this is?
- Metalworking and blacksmithing are often associated with masculinity. Why do you think this is? (Check out our profile of Valerie Ostenak to see a woman beautifully engaging in this non-traditional gender role.)
- Ballet dancing “en pointe” (on toe shoes) is often associated with female dancers. Why do you think this is? (Check out the fantastic Ballets Trockadero for men engaging in this non-traditional gender role.)
- Sure there are.
- Review the Nat Geo News article. Why do you think people assume ancient cave paintings are the work of male artists?
- Gender Roles in society. The subject matter largely consists of game animals—in some cases, animals actually being hunted. In most hunter-gatherer societies, men are assumed to have done the hunting. Archaeologists, anthropologists, and art historians think cave paintings are probably depictions of, or part of rituals for, successful hunting parties.
- Gender Roles in culture. An evolutionary biologist quoted in the article thinks cave paintings were actually done by adolescent boys: “For adults, caves would have been dangerous and uninteresting, but young boys would have explored them for adventure . . . ‘They drew what was on their mind, which is mainly two things: naked women and large, frightening mammals.'”
- Review the Nat Geo News article and the two outlined assumptions above. How does the new analysis challenge these assumptions about ancient gender roles?
- Gender Roles in society. Women may have had similar opportunities and motivation to depict (or hope for) a successful hunt. “It wasn’t just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around,” says the lead researcher. “In most hunter-gatherer societies, it’s men that do the killing. But it’s often the women who haul the meat back to camp, and women are as concerned with the productivity of the hunt as the men are.” Women are also shamans (or spiritual leaders) in many hunter-gatherer societies, another archaeologist notes.
- Gender Roles in culture. Review the quote from the article: “For adults, caves would have been dangerous and uninteresting, but young boys would have explored them for adventure . . .” Really?! Do you think girls are not interested in exploration or adventure? Do you think they’re not interested in large, frightening mammals? Do you think they’re not interested in ancient anthropology and biology—that is, naked men and women? Nat Geo has a whole lot of female explorers who beg to differ!
3 thoughts on “Were the First Artists Mostly Women?”
Orthodox thinking!!! How can people assume that a woman can’t hunt, paint!!!! She can do everything thing from A to Z.. Thanks to those archaeologists who support women and their work….