Neanderthals Divvied Up Chores by Sex

New research on Neanderthal teeth shows differing gender roles

Anna Peisl/Corbis

Despite centuries of progress, studies show that women still do more housework than men. But new research reveals that modern couples are not the first to divide chores by sex. Fossil evidence from Neanderthal teeth seems to indicate that the practice of expecting women to help out around the house dates as far back as 100,000 years.

When Spanish scientists took a look at 99 fossilized Neanderthal teeth from 19 individuals, they found deep dental grooves in all of them. That wasn’t surprising to researchers—the fossil record demonstrates that Neanderthals used the mouth as a kind of “third hand," used as a tool to cut meat or process furs, for instance. But when the researchers compared teeth by sex, they found that women’s teeth had longer grooves in the lower portions of their incisors and canine teeth, while men had nicks in the upper portions.

Different dental grooves mean different work, says Antonio Rosas, a researcher who headed up the project, in a release. “So far, we thought that the sexual division of labor was typical of sapiens societies, but apparently that's not true.” The team surmises that though both sexes hunted food, women were responsible for making and maintaining clothing, while men focused on repairing stone tools.

As it turns out, Spanish anthropologists aren’t the only ones with gender parity on the mind. IKEA, as iDigitalTimes reports, has identified household communication as a problem that dates to "the dawn of time" (illustrated below by cartoons of cave people) and has dreamed up a solution—custom emoji aimed at helping couples communicate about clutter.


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