Rise Of Sexual Inequality In Ancient China Revealed In Bones

The placement of this skeleton inside two nested coffins indicates high status. During the Eastern Zhou Dynasty the practice became overwhelmingly the preserve of men. Ekaterina Pechenkina.

Pechenkina found that the dietary changes were associated with women becoming shorter and more likely to suffer cranial lesions caused by inadequate nutrition. These indicate the Eastern Zhou Dynasty was a bad time to be a woman, rather than the change being a matter of preference. At the same time, graves – which had previously been fairly egalitarian – started revealing men's higher social status in the form of more elaborate coffins and more “grave goods”, precious items buried with the corpse.

Co-author Chelsea Morgan of the Australian National University told IFLScience that the reasons for both the change in overall diet and the increase in gender inequity were unclear. However, she said that neolithic bones and grave sites frequently show little difference between men and women. This changed as warfare became more common, but cause and effect are unclear. Pechenkina added that the work aligns with Friedrich Engels theory that women had equal status until the domestication of animals for herding.

The Eastern Zhou Dynasty was the last era before the Qin dynasty established Imperial China by conquering what had previously been nearby independent states. It coincided with a rise in philosophy, including the teachings of Confucius, which went on to shape Chinese government and social relations through the following imperial eras. Morgan told IFLScience it is unclear whether Confucius' teachings were as influential at the time as they subsequently became, let alone how much they contributed to women's reduced status.

These beads were found in the Xiyasi cemetry dating from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, and were predominantly found in men's graves, indicating higher status. Ekaterina Pechenkina

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