Session: #348

Theme & Session Format

6. Material culture studies and societies
Session format:
Regular session

Title & Content

Derivatives of Their Men? Alternatives to the “Woman Problem” in Mortuary Archaeology [AGE]
During a vigil in honor of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judge Diane Goodstein of South Carolina noted that the “Notorious RBG” was a dauntless champion of women’s rights and gender parity in the United States and one of the main reasons that “today, women are no longer derivatives of the men in their lives.” While this idea has gained traction in the present day, many archaeological interpretations of women’s lives in the past tend to be androcentric by default.
For example, the elite women of late Hallstatt Central Europe were often buried with splendid sets of personal ornamentation such as ring ornaments, hairpins of bronze or gold, and belt ensembles decorated with thousands of intricate bronze staples. A persistent interpretive model for these items is that they represented the wealth of the woman’s husband; she wore these ornaments as a walking display of the economic status of the men in her life. This perspective presents the great women of the past as mere derivatives of men, with little or no agency. The work of Judith Butler (1990; 1993) refers to this idea as the Woman Problem, while Fraser (1988:107) dubbed it the Appendage Syndrome which views women “as an extension or prolongation of the rule of a particular great man.”
But why must this be the case? The idea that powerful women in prehistoric societies were an anomaly reflects a biased over-generalization of the complexities of women’s lives in the past (Nelson 2004, 2006). This session will explore the issues inherent in the Appendage Syndrome or Woman Problem from a pan-European archaeological perspective while suggesting possible alternatives to this interpretative lens. We welcome papers that examine this issue across multiple time periods and geographic regions, especially those with a focus on gender and mortuary archaeology.
Gender archaeology, Mortuary archaeology, theory, Theoretical models, Appendage Syndrome
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AGE-sponsored session


Main organiser:
Emily Stanton (United States) 1
Rachel Pope (United Kingdom) 2
1. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
2. University of Liverpool