24 December 2007

Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

I think this is the last book on my list by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (see here, here, and here for her other books) and it probably has the broadest appeal. There's a lot in it that's the same as what was covered in several of her other books, especially Prehistoric Textiles, but on a more general level and with the goal of learning more specifically about the lives of women in ancient times. The focus is on textiles, which have almost always been produced by women because their production is possible while caring for children. (I discovered this after our first son was born when textile arts like quilting, crocheting, and spinning became the most practical way for me to keep my sanity.)

Barber uses archaeological and linguistic evidence to detail a variety of aspects of women's work in ancient times. The types of materials they used, where they got them and how they benefited from them, and why they created what they did are all discussed. Objects like loom weights appearing in new areas show women's (not just men's) migrations. Barber interprets some myths using archaeological and textile information. If you're just going to read one of her books, this is the one to read. Her final paragraph sums up the goal of the book:
We women do not need to conjure a history for ourselves. Facts about women, their work, and their place in society in early times have survived in considerable quantity, if we know how to look for them. Far from being dull and in need of fanciful paint to make it more interesting, this truth is sometimes (as the saying goes) stranger than fiction, a fascinating tale in itself.

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