So what does Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives do?

Posted on April 22, 2010

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Karina Croucher provides a better overview of the book than I ever have, in her April 2010 review in the American Journal of Archaeology Online:

The book is structured into an introduction and five chapters that cover various thematic areas. The author challenges constructions of sex and gender categories, addresses aspects of power and hierarchy, discusses different types of sexual and gendered identities in the past, and concludes with an evaluation of the role of studies of sex and gender in archaeology in contemporary society.

I arranged the book to cover key themes that are central to debates in contemporary gender and women’s studies, and the anthropology of gender and sexuality. I tried to ensure that the book scaffolded from the most fundamental questions– what do we mean by sex, or gender?– and that it addressed the question, why does a specifically archaeological viewpoint matter? I argue that looking at sex and gender over time is critical because sex/gender is reproduced over time; and that the material means through which sex/gender is reproduced are one source of their power.

I wanted to avoid developing a kind of women in ancient history case studies approach. But I knew students coming to my course would expect to learn about specific times and places. So I selected specific world regions where there has been a wealth of debate and investigation that bears on one of the key topics under examination. Mesoamerica; indigenous North America; the historic United States of America; Classical Greece and Rome, Egypt, and Mesopotamia; and Europe, from the Palaeolithic through to the early modern period, provide the main case studies.  Because the topics transcend these case studies, students have been able to extend them, undertaking projects on East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa.