Gender-based division of labor 4,000 years ago with some tasks carried out only by women

Only women used their anterior teeth to make threads and strings

The study of dental wear of 106 individuals buried in Castellón Alto site (Granada, Spain) confirms this statement

First author is Marina Lozano (IPHES-URV), who has published a paper about this research in the Journal of Archaeological Science


The El Argar culture developed in the southeastern part of the Iberian Peninsula between 2,200 and 1,550 BCE, It was a complex society, with social differentiation based on gender, age and specialization in the manufacture of craftwork made from ceramics, lithics, textiles and metals.This social complexity is confirmed by the Journal of Archaeological Science, which has just published a new study headed by Marina Lozano, a researcher at the Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES) and the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV), in collaboration with investigators from the Laboratory of Anthropology of the University of Granada, among whom Ángel Rubio Salvador is one of the authors.

Grooves on the teeth from several female individuals showing evidence of working with ropes and threads (arrows indicate non-alimentary dental wear). Author: Marina Lozano/IPHES

Specifically, the analysis of the dental wear of 106 individuals buried in the Castellón Alto site (Granada, Spain) shows that women used their front teeth (incisors and canines) to perform tasks related to the elaboration of threads and cords during the Bronze Age (1900-1600 BCE). The specific dental wear features, including notches, flakes and occlusal and interproximal grooves on the dental enamel, result from the manipulation of plant and animal fibers used to produce textiles and basketry. While previous studies of the material culture of El Argar have evidenced these activities, a direct relationship establishing the gender of the individual artisans had not yet been established.

Non-alimentary uses of teeth of Individual 90 from Castellón Alto site.. Author: Ángel Rubio Salvador

As a result, one of the most important conclusions of this new study is that double labor specialization existed already by the end of the Bronze Age; that is to say almost 4,000 years ago.  It indicates that a single, small group of people was dedicating themselves to handcrafts related to the production of threads and textile manufacture and that, furthermore, these activities were carried out exclusively by women.

On the other hand, the fact that this evidence was recorded in remains belonging to individuals of different ages, with more advanced wear as they get older, allows to infer that this specialization began in their youth and that the same women continued performing these tasks throughout their lives.

This study forms a part of one of the IPHES’ lines of research that aims to identify the use of teeth as tools. Furthermore, in this case, we have obtained data about the division of labor both in terms of gender and of age. Consequently, we have gained a better vision of the lifestyle and social organization of the El Argar culture.


Lozano, M.; Jiménez-Brobeil, Sylvia A.; Willman, John C.; Sánchez-Barba, Lydia P.; Molina, Fernando; Rubio, Ángel. 2020. Argaric craftswomen: sex-based division of labor in the Bronze Age southeastern Iberia. Journal of Archaeological Science