Shifting diets and the rise of male-biased inequality on the Central Plains of China during Eastern Zhou

Research Highlight

Females lower down the food chain in Bronze Age China

© Mike Kemp/Getty

© Mike Kemp/Getty

Analyses of skeletal remains of men and women from two different periods suggest that the male-biased inequality in Imperial China arose in the Bronze Age.

An international team, led by Ekaterina Pechenkina from the City University of New York, compared skeletal remains at sites from China’s Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771–221 BC) and the earlier Neolithic Period Yangshao culture (5,000–2,900 BC).

Although there was no evidence of male-female inequality in the earlier farming communities, it appears that males and females consumed different food during Eastern Zhou. Isotope analyses of the skeletons show Eastern Zhou female diets depended more on plants and less on meat, while the opposite was true for males. Female bones showed evidence of chronic anaemia and were smaller than Eastern Zhou males and earlier Yangshao females. Male Eastern Zhou burial sites also contained more goods and were more sturdily constructed than female sites, whereas the opposite was often true in the Yangshao culture.

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  1. PNAS 114, 932–937 (2017). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1611742114
Institutions Share
Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Hunan Province, China 0.29
Shandong University (SDU), China 0.14
Australian National University (ANU), Australia 0.14
Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), United States of America (USA) 0.14
Hebei Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage, China 0.14
Queens College of City University of New York (CUNY Queens College), United States of America (USA) 0.14