Objects of the Museu de Prehistòria de València

Bone needle

Parpalló Cave (Gandia, Valencia)

Gender stereotypes

Archaeological remains enable us to explore certain activities in the lives of the hunter-gatherer-fisher societies of the past, from our position in the present. Through the analysis of the traces of use observed on the needle, research has determined that this object was used for sewing. It was made from the metapodial of a goat, and from its stratigraphic context, it can be dated to 14,000 years ago. What archaeological research cannot tell us is if it was made or used by men or women. However, the interpretation we give it today is that sewing is a task associated with women and therefore, it must have been the same in prehistoric times. Thus, something which is impossible to know is automatically attributed to women in the past. The fact of so attributing certain duties to prehistoric women helps to reinforce the gender roles which in the past have underestimated women, excluding them from group organizational tasks, managing the household economy and the provision of food.

Mill and grinding stone

Cova de l´Or (Alcoi, Alacant)

Sexual division of labour

From the skeletons found in tombs and necropoleis, we are able to determine the sex and age of the people buried there, as well as their diet, state of health, illnesses and muscular effort made. It has therefore been possible to identify wear on the bones of the hand, knees and feet in female skeletons. This type of physical wear is caused by the continual action of grinding cereals in saddle querns to make flour. Therefore, it is possible to assign the processing of cereals through grinding to women. This work was extremely important for such groups, as it provided a basic element of their everyday diet.

Eyed-idol

Pastora Cave (Alcoi, Alcant)

Gender and sex
Gender, beliefs, identities and religions

These idols are symbolic material manifestations linked to the world of ideas and beliefs among the early farming communities of the 3rd millennium BC.

The decoration on some eye idols includes a triangular motif interpreted as a representation of the pubic triangle, making it possible to identify their sexuality as female.

The various interpretations of eye idols can be grouped into two schools of thought. One postulates that they represent a female divinity of Neolithic origin, a reflection of the concern for survival in terms of agricultural or livestock production, and a concept of fertility that encompasses humans as well as animals and the land. The other views the idols as the symbolic representation of a person. They would have evoked ancestors or forebears, representing genealogical origins and the lineage of individuals belonging to the élite. Recently, another interpretation has been added for idols on long bones, that they are dolls, based on ethnographic studies of Central African peoples.

The importance of the feminine in these objects is determined by their obvious sexual attribution, although it is not possible to go beyond this in understanding their meaning.

Bronze axe

Lloma de Betxí (Paterna, Valencia)

Gender roles

For a long time, archaeological research has denied the participation of women in metalworking processes. The fact that some of the most important materials were considered weapons led any relationship between women and these objects to be ruled out. However, in the majority of archaeological sites on the Iberian Peninsula, the ovens used for metalworking are integrated into the settlement, a factor which might lead us to think that both men and women took part in the processing of minerals to obtain metal tools. In addition, the importance of supply of the raw material, the minerals necessary for alloys, in which female participation has been documented ethnographically, should not be forgotten.

Loom weights

La Lloma de Betxí (Paterna, Valencia)

Sexual division of labour

Gender and space 

Gender stereotypes: domestic sphere 

Loom weights are characteristic clay pieces used to keep the warp threads taut. Their presence indicates the existence of textile-making activity in the settlement of La Lloma de Betxí, but the type of material and fibres used are unknown. Although the interpretation of these pieces has always been associated with weights used in a vertical loom, we cannot rule out the possibility that they were employed as fibre twisters or spools, given their size and weight.

The task of weaving is linked to the domestic sphere and considered an activity performed by women. However, research has frequently failed to value the difficulty involved in performing this work, or the importance of the activity’s contribution to the economic maintenance of past societies.

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Child’s burial site 

Castellet de Bernabé (Llíria, Valencia)

Gender and life cycle
Gender identity

In the Iberian world, the death of infants, foetuses and newborns was generally dealt with differently from other, older individuals: rather than being cremated and placed in cemeteries, they were buried inside the house. The Castellet de Bernabé site has produced 14 child burials, the majority aged no more than two weeks. Their remains give rise to an interesting debate: whether or not gender was assigned at such an important stage of the life cycle as birth and the first weeks of life, as there appear to be no obvious markers.

If this is the case, it may mean that in Iberian society, definition of the newborn’s identity did not take place until they had reached a specific age. The burial selected for the rereading may testify to this, as it clearly stands out from the rest: in addition to being significantly older (5–7 months), the remains are accompanied by grave goods with considerable symbolic value.

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Calathus with dance scene

Tossal de Sant Miquel (Lliria, Valencia)

Gender and clothing

Gender and social class

Gender and life cycle

The “kalathos of the dance” is a ceramic vase from the 3rd-2nd centuries BC, found at the old Iberian city of Edeta (Tossal de Sant Miquel de Llíria, València), which represents a dance scene. The procession is led by a flautist and a tuba player, followed by a group of three men and four women holding hands. On the edge of the kalathos appears the painted name of a woman, Balkeuni(n), probably the person who ordered the manufacturing of the vase. The scenes of this and other ceramics from the Tossal de Sant Miquel, provide valuable information about the identities and gender roles of the Edetan elites.

 

Gold and amethyst earring with two hanging pearls

Valentia (València)

Gender and clothing

Ownership of this type of object was linked to high social status during the Roman period. Roman matrons wore a great deal of jewellery. Ornatrices were female slaves responsible for doing up patrician women. This object is associated with an upper-class woman, but it also reminds us of the work of female slaves. It also brings to mind a women’s revolt against the Roman Senate. During the Second Punic War, the Lex Oppia was enacted in Rome. This law banned public displays of wealth such as jewellery, as impoverishment caused by the war had roused the poorer classes, who might take offence at seeing such wealth. After Scipio’s victory over Hannibal, economic conditions improved, but a faction in the Senate, headed by Cato, refused to repeal the law, favouring a continuation of austerity. The day on which the Senate voted on keeping the law, a large group of women assembled in front of the houses of some of the senators in order to prevent them from attending the vote. Cato asserted that if women were allowed to state their opinions, men would lose their freedom and also that: ‘The very moment they begin to be your equals, they will be your superiors’ (Livy). Despite the debate and outrage, the Lex Oppia was repealed.

Denarius of Faustina the Elder

(Lliria, València)

Family and relationships
Gender and social class
Gender stereotypes

In the Roman Empire, coins were one of the most effective means of political propaganda, the reason why imperial families showed such an obvious interest in controlling their production. Representing oneself on coins made it possible to convey an image and a specific message regarding the person who exercised power. Although in most cases, the figure depicted was that of the emperor, during the Late Empire, their mothers, wives and daughters were well represented. This is the case of Faustina the Elder, wife of Antoninus Pius, shown on this silver denarius from the Llíria Hoard (1st–3rd century AD) associated with the symbols of authority: the throne, the crown and the sceptre. It is a clear demonstration of the role women performed as the visible face of imperial power, although official history has often consigned them to the margins.