Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor


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Neanderthal communities divided some of their tasks according to their sex. This is one of the main conclusions reached by a study performed by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), published in the Journal of Human Evolution. This study, which analyzed 99 incisors and canine teeth of 19 individuals from three different sites (El Sidron, in Asturias — Spain, L’Hortus in France, and Spy in Belgium), reveals that the dental grooves present in the female fossils follow the same pattern, which is different to that found in male individuals.

Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor
Neanderthal maxilla [Credit: CSIC]

Analyses show that all Neanderthal individuals, regardless of age, had dental grooves. According to Antonio Rosas, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences: “This is due to the custom of these societies to use the mouth as a third hand, as in some current populations, for tasks such as preparing the furs or chopping meat, for instance.”

Rosas specifies that “what we have now discovered is that the grooves detected in the teeth of adult women are longer than those found in adult men. Therefore we assume that the tasks performed were different.”

Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor
Neanderthal communities divided some of their tasks
 according to their sex [Credit: CSIC]

Other variables analyzed are the tiny spalls of the teeth enamel. Male individuals show a greater number of nicks in the enamel and dentin of the upper parts, while in female individuals these imperfections appear in the lower parts.

It is still unclear which activities corresponded to women and which ones to men. However, the authors of the study note that, as in modern hunter-gatherer societies, women may have been responsible for the preparation of furs and the elaboration of garments. Researchers state that the retouching of the edges of stone tools seems to have been a male task.

Neanderthal groups based part of their lifestyle on sexual division of labor
Neanderthal societies used the mouth as a third hand, as in some current populations, 
for tasks such as preparing the furs or chopping meat [Credit: CSIC]

Almudena Estalrrich, CSIC researcher at the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences, adds: “Nevertheless, we believe that the specialization of labor by sex of the individuals was probably limited to a few tasks, as it is possible that both men and women participated equally in the hunting of big animals.”

Rosas concludes: “The study of Neanderthals has provided numerous discoveries in recent years. We have moved from thinking of them as little evolved beings, to know that they took care of the sick persons, buried their deceased, ate seafood, and even had different physical features than expected: there were redhead individuals, and with light skin and eyes. So far, we thought that the sexual division of labor was typical of sapiens societies, but apparently that’s not true.”

Source: Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) [February 18, 2015]


  1. Yes, there might have been a considerable sex dimorphism in neandertals, greater than in sapiens: neandertal men were probably a lot bigger & had larger brains than the women, and this was possibly also the case in earlier archaic Homo species (e.g. Dmanisi). Early-Pleistocene Homo shows a lot of features typically seen in littoral mammals: "fast" dispersal (probably along African & southern Eurasian coasts & from there inland along big rivers), finds usu.near edible shellfish, generally very heavy (dense & thick) bones, very broad build, wide pelves & flaring ilia (correlated with long femoral necks & more valgus knees for femoral abduction, contradicting cursorial adaptations), brain enlargement (facilitated by abundant DHA in seafood), long low flat brain-skulls (+ heavy eye-protecting brow-ridges), sagittal keeling, medio-laterally broad femora (platymeria, also contradicting cursorialism), etc. Some of these "littoral-archaic" features diminished in neandertals (less heavy bones), others increased (even larger brains), still others were +-typical for neandertals (e.g. more projecting mid-faces & bigger noses surrounded by large paranasal sinuses). Some neandertal tools bear traces of cattails, their dental plaque has traces bulbs of waterlilies & (water?)grasses, suggesting neandertals lived more inland (fossils near oxbow lakes, beaver ponds, big rivers) than erectus, but possibly once a year trekked along the river to the sea (finds all over the northern Medit.Sea coasts), where they collected shellfish & butchered stranded whales & pinnipeds (e.g.Gibraltar). With these data, a lot of sex.dimorphisms ( shellfish, seal furs…?) are possible, e.g. women more herbivorous (esp.aquatic & waterside plants?) or v.v., women more wading or diving or v.v., males more hunting ( colder regions?), males seasonally trekking to the coasts (leaving women & children behind?), etc.
    Google researchGate marc verhaegen, or



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