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Reviews: New Scientist 15 Mar 97
The Evolving Female and Women in Human Evolution
WHEN WOMEN researchers write on female evolution, it's time to pay attention. Given the bias against women both as science professionals and agents in prehistory, The Evolving Female (edited by Mary Ellen Morbeck, Alison Galloway and Adrienne Zihlman, Princeton University Press, F19-95/$27-95, ISBN 0691027471) and Women in Human Evolution (edited by Lori Hager, Routledge, 4'15.99, ISBN 0415108349) represent special achievements. It took the influence of feminism in the 1970s to puncture the "Man the Hunter" concept of early humanity, as Hager's contributors describe. Before then, hunting, the tools it required and the copious meat it was assumed to have delivered were considered not only pivotal but utterly masculine. Superior field methods, and a more critical approach, now suggest that meat-eating and the use of stone tools probably arose when early humans scavenged the kills of big cats for bone marrow. Organised hunting came later, and probably only rarely provided the bulk of the diet. So early division of labour around hunting seems much less certain. Gilda Morelli's study of the limited sexual division of labour among today's young Efe foragers in central Africa, in The Evolving Female, neatly underlines this point. And if getting meat required no hunting, what is to have prevented females from acquiring both the taste for flesh and tools to satisfy it? Fire, language, and symbolism, once tacitly assumed to be somehow linked to hunting, make just as much sense as female inspirations-as these two books assert. Both of these books may mark something of a turning point in palaeoanthropology They deserve to appear quickly in university libraries and lecture notes.