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

Edited by Clark Spencer Larsen, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, and approved December 9, 2016 (received for review July 18, 2016)
January 17, 2017
114 (5) 932-937

Significance

Male-biased inequality in Imperial China imposed strong limitations on the economic and intellectual contribution of women to the society and fostered male-biased resource distribution, because females were subordinated to the priorities of the patriarchal state. Analyzing human skeletal remains from early agricultural and later preimperial archaeological sites, we find no evidence of inequality between males and females in early farming communities. The observed differences between male and female skeletons from Eastern Zhou archaeological contexts allow us to infer a decline in female social status after the introduction of new crop plants and domesticated herbivores in preimperial China. The analysis reveals that male-biased inequality and subsistence change became intertwined with the rise of social complexity.

Abstract

Farming domesticated millets, tending pigs, and hunting constituted the core of human subsistence strategies during Neolithic Yangshao (5000–2900 BC). Introduction of wheat and barley as well as the addition of domesticated herbivores during the Late Neolithic (∼2600–1900 BC) led to restructuring of ancient Chinese subsistence strategies. This study documents a dietary shift from indigenous millets to the newly introduced cereals in northcentral China during the Bronze Age Eastern Zhou Dynasty (771–221 BC) based on stable isotope analysis of human and animal bone samples. Our results show that this change affected females to a greater degree than males. We find that consumption of the newly introduced cereals was associated with less consumption of animal products and a higher rate of skeletal stress markers among females. We hypothesized that the observed separation of dietary signatures between males and females marks the rise of male-biased inequality in early China. We test this hypothesis by comparing Eastern Zhou human skeletal data with those from Neolithic Yangshao archaeological contexts. We find no evidence of male–female inequality in early farming communities. The presence of male-biased inequality in Eastern Zhou society is supported by increased body height difference between the sexes as well as the greater wealth of male burials.

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Acknowledgments

Songtao Chen (Shandong University) collected the samples. Biao Zhang, Qinxuan Wang, Haichen Zhao, and Yu Chen (students of Shandong University) carried out sample preparation for the stable isotope analysis. We thank Drs. Pugh, Stinson, DeBoer, Moore, and Rostoker and two reviewers who commented on earlier versions of this manuscript. Funding was provided by Queens College, Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York Grant TRADB-47-262, the Fundamental Research Funds of Shandong University Grant 2014HW009, National Science Foundation Division of Graduate Education Grant 0966166, and the Program of Introducing Talents of Discipline to Universities Grant 111-2-09.

Supporting Information

Appendix (PDF)
Supporting Information
pnas.1611742114.sd01.xlsx
pnas.1611742114.sd02.xlsx
pnas.1611742114.sd03.xlsx
pnas.1611742114.sd04.xlsx

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 114 | No. 5
January 31, 2017
PubMed: 28096406

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: January 17, 2017
Published in issue: January 31, 2017

Keywords

  1. stable isotopes
  2. bioarchaeology
  3. paleo diet
  4. Yangshao
  5. East Asia

Acknowledgments

Songtao Chen (Shandong University) collected the samples. Biao Zhang, Qinxuan Wang, Haichen Zhao, and Yu Chen (students of Shandong University) carried out sample preparation for the stable isotope analysis. We thank Drs. Pugh, Stinson, DeBoer, Moore, and Rostoker and two reviewers who commented on earlier versions of this manuscript. Funding was provided by Queens College, Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York Grant TRADB-47-262, the Fundamental Research Funds of Shandong University Grant 2014HW009, National Science Foundation Division of Graduate Education Grant 0966166, and the Program of Introducing Talents of Discipline to Universities Grant 111-2-09.

Notes

This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.

Authors

Affiliations

Yu Dong
School of History and Culture, Shandong University, Jinan, Shandong 250100, China;
Chelsea Morgan
School of Archaeology and Anthropology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia;
Yurii Chinenov1
The David Rozensweig Genomics Center, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, NY 10021;
Ligang Zhou
Research Division of Archaeological Science, Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Zhengzhou 450000, China;
Wenquan Fan
Research Division of Shang and Zhou Dynasties, Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Zhengzhou 450000, China;
Xiaolin Ma
Henan Provincial Administration of Cultural Heritage, Zhengzhou 450000, China;
Department of Anthropology, Queens College, City University of New York, New York, NY 11367

Notes

2
To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: [email protected].
Author contributions: Y.C. and K.P. designed research; Y.D., L.Z., W.F., X.M., and K.P. performed research; C.M., Y.C., and K.P. analyzed data; and Y.D., Y.C., and K.P. wrote the paper.
1
Y.C., and K.P. contributed equally to this work.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Shifting diets and the rise of male-biased inequality on the Central Plains of China during Eastern Zhou
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 114
    • No. 5
    • pp. 783-E905

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