I'm reading the book SEX AT DAWN: the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality, the book suggests that in prehistoric times, when homo sapiens were just foraging on the earth, the relation between men and women was like the relation between male and female bonobos and the society was more like a matriarchy in which women had the most respectable position.
But when people learned agriculture and began to settle down and the concept of individual property formed, women's position converted to man's property and men restricted women more and more in order to be sure that their possessions will be inherited by their actual heirs.

On page 17 we read:

when people began living in settled agricultural communities, social reality shifted deeply and irrevocably. Suddenly it became crucially important to know where your field ended and your neighbor’s began. Remember the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s.” Clearly, the biggest loser (aside from slaves, perhaps) in the agricultural revolution was the human female, who went from occupying a central, respected role in foraging societies to becoming another possession for a man to earn and defend, along with his house, slaves, and livestock.

  • My question is that why does it say clearly?
  • Why didn't women earn possessions like men in the agricultural revolution?

  • What intrinsic feature in women makes it clear that they shall lose their position in the agricultural revolution?


By high rank of female bonobos, I don't mean only sexual relationship but also the higher position in the society in which A male derives his status from the status of his mother

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    Related question: Has the existence of a matriarchal society been discredited
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 21:46
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    I would question the assertion that prior to agriculture Man did not have a sense of turf. If you are a hunter, you need your hunting grounds left alone by other hunters. If you gather, you won't be happy if some yahoo strips your berries. Nomad herders certainly know where their grazing areas are without a physical fence.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 18:52
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    I'd also question that their was no concept of individual property. The second you spend time finding something or chipping a rock to make a tool, its your tool. If you give that to the tribe for others to use, you at least want status for doing so.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Oct 30, 2015 at 18:54
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    Considering the relative strong position of women in the Viking age (that, despite popular views, was a farming society) I think the basic premise is flawed. That changed with religion so it appears to have more to do with religion than agriculture.
    – liftarn
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 10:38
  • It’s dubious that the first agricultural societies were patriarchal in the sense of sex at dawn due to house size, lack of walls, etc. these societies may not have had “property,” as such. We do have reason to believe that the first societies with property concepts were more male dominated than female dominated. In general this question has way too many unchallenged assertions which current scholarship questions; there’s room for an even better answer than the ones current. Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 0:23

3 Answers 3


Most likely because they never had it to start with.

There are two big problems with this portion of the book's thesis:

  1. I see no evidence whatsoever put forth in the above text supporting the assertion that human women were socially equal or superior prior to the agricultural revolution. Such evidence should not be hard to come by, simply by talking with an anthropologist or two. There are plenty of hunter-gatherer societies left in the world, not to mention halfway decent records of past ones encountered by literate societies. I believe most have been found to be quite paternalistic. For instance, in Sioxan languages, the native words used for the head(s) of the tribe usually translates to something like "little old men" or "old man chief". This implies a societal requirement for leadership of being male.

  2. While related to Bonobos, recent genetic studies have shown that humans are slightly more closely related to Chimpanzees (and Chimps and Bonobos are closer to each other than either are to humans). Chimpanzees it turns out have a much more paternalistic society. Unlike bonobos, Chimps tend to look to settle disputes with violence. They engage in activities like hunting and warfare, both almost exclusively by males. The males also aggressively try to control sexual access to females.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 21:33

The key thing about the agricultural revolution is that of property. People became sedentary, with a house, and people worked on plots of land to produce food. With major items of property like this, who inherits?

The first agricultural people were the Pre-Pottery Neolithic culture, in the Levant. Not long after they settled into villages, they started keeping skulls on their houses. This is indicative of ancestor worship, which in turn is usually related to property rights. The ancestor legitimises your claim to the land. (See First Farmers, by Peter Bellwood.)

Something we don't know for certain, but can guess, is that the society was patrilocal. That is, the bride would move to the husband's village. If so, then it is the husband's plot of land that the couple work on, and the society would tend towards patrilineal. The ancestors worshipped would be those of the husband. The guess on patrilocality is because that is the case for most pre-modern societies. There are matrilocal and matrilineal societies but they are the exception not the rule.

Finally, property tends to confer power. If the main property belongs to the man, so does the power.

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    I suspect this answer is very much correct, but sources would improve it a lot.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 17, 2018 at 14:57

Well, I don't know much about bonobos, but many primate communities consist of a group of females /young with a dominant male, who guards his access to females and resources from others.

However, I would suggest, off the top of my head, that once property eg fields, woods, etc - became a distinct concept, it was down to who could get it, keep it and defend it - which obviously favoured the stronger male.

  • But even in the foraging era, men are stronger in hunting and gaining food so why women had a higher position that time? probably because of their fecundity which is an important concept considering the handmades of ancient people. But why did this productivity ability lose its rank by the concept of individual property? Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 17:06
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    HIS is just an emphasis of the word "his". Read it as his.
    – user12566
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 20:42
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    Assuming a more matriarchal or a more egalitarian society was indeed the norm prior to the agricultural revolution, I speculate that the constant need for men to be away from "home" to hunt kept this balance. Once the agricultural revolution came and everyone--male and female alike--settled down together, the average male's assertive tendencies were no longer directed at hunting and instead at home/city life. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 21:58
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    Of course, this is a gross generalization in any case. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 21:59
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    "men are stronger in hunting and gaining food" is not as clear as it may seem, because most hunter-gatherers get their food from gathering and strength is not needed for that. In fact, it's often a female activity.
    – Pere
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 22:37

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