Men’s or Women’s Work

What determines what is designated as “man’s work”or “woman’s work?” In this day and age, we are currently hearing strident voices asking this very question. As a matter of fact, I’ve asked this myself. Archaeological studies of ceramics reveal that this has been been an issue for a long time time.

The evidence of fingerprints from Hama illustrates the impact the dramatic social transformations of the mid-3rd millennium had on the lives of men, women, and children alike in Inland Western Syria.

Akiva Sanders, Potters and Their Fingerprints, ASOR, Vol. VII, #8

Pottery and ceramics are the most common items found in archaeological digs in the Near East, so finding another shard is not usually a cause for celebration. However, this abundance has brought us valuable information about the culture of the day. How? Because ancient potters leave fingerprint evidence on their work.

Usually, only remnants of the potters’ fingerprints are visible. However, even partial prints reveal differences in distributions of ridge density, and that helps determine the gender of the potter. Scholars collaborated and compared a variety of objects from multiple areas fromthe same time periods. Their findings showed interesting changes in this industry as the area was urbanized.

  • In rural times, both adult men and women formed and finished all types of ceramics.
  • As the site was urbanized, only the prints from adult men were found. This suggests a stricter division of labor by gender, family, and social class as the area became a city.
  • Some sites showed that the production process increasingly included children from the age of about eight.
  • The disappearance of women and appearance of children in the industry suggests apprenticeship among same-gender children of professionals.

I’ve often been asked about how I research historical fiction. Before writing Less Than a Widow, I looked into the pottery industry of that Biblical era. As Ruth’s father was a potter, I used the details I found in my research to make the story historically accurate.

As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

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