Approaching sex through archaeology: mothering

Posted on May 7, 2010


If sex/gender is relational– reflexively created through ongoing connections with others, through which we place ourselves in relation to them– then not only is it important to consider sex/gender development over the life course; it is also imperative to consider the role of parenting in the experience of sex/gender over the life course.

To explore this, I move in my course to a consideration of archaeological work that teases out evidence for mothering: from bioarchaeological work on material health, to arguments for the role of objects used in rituals in women’s reproductive health, to an exploration of the social role of midwife.

There are echoes, in this emphasis on the relationship between children and their mothers, of Jacques Lacan, and of Hélène Cixous. A research gap legitimately exists in the absence of archaeologies of fathering. It is helpful to reconsider the work on archaeologies of masculinity that students discussed the previous week.

One of the other issues the existence of a rich archaeological literature on mothering raises is the significance of women in the past who chose not to be mothers, were physically or socially unable to be mothers, or whose sexuality led them to a childless life. Archaeology remains almost unthinkingly normative in its failure to consider these alternative lives.

Articles discussed by individual student panels:

Cyphers Guillen, Ann 1993: Women, rituals, and social dynamics at ancient Chalcatzingo. Latin American Antiquity 4:209-224.

Storey, Rebecca 1998: Mothers and daughters of a patrilineal civilization: The health of females among the Late Classic Maya of Copán, Honduras. In Sex and Gender in Paleopathological Perspective, edited by Anne L. Grauer and Patricia Stuart-Macadam, pp. 133-148. Cambridge University Press.

Wilkie, L. 2003: The Archaeology of Mothering. Routledge Press, London, pp. 1-14, 209-219