Women In The Neolithic Period In Britain
In my recent book, Zuri is my protagonist. As a young girl, she moves from the village we now call Martin, situated above Fordingbridge, to live down on the River Avon. The farming families were always short of women, not least because a number would have died in childbirth. Older members of the farming family visited her hunter gatherer family to negotiate the move, when she was a child. A ‘dowry’ of grain and beef was paid annually for a number of years. Women in the Neolithic period in Britain had a trading value, which did not extend to the male children.
I didn’t pluck this idea from thin air. The practice was identified in Germany for that period. It probably reflected the power of the prospering farmers as the hunter gatherers declined. Trading a female child for grain had three benefits. Firstly, it enabled the child’s family to survive over winter, when game was even more difficult to find. Secondly, it reduced mouths to feed and thirdly, the child was moving into a more wealthy and healthy culture. This practice probably began because the hunter gatherers lived in marginal areas, the wilder upland country. With a gradual decline in game everything suggests their numbers were falling.
A Model for Zuri
One of the finest museums to cover the Neolithic period is the Museum of London. On a recent visit, I made note of ‘The Shepperton Woman’, who dated to 3640-3100 BC. Okay, that’s a good thousand years before Zuri, but close enough for comparison. Her skeleton suggested she was 30-40 years of age, with worn teeth but no signs of disease. The shape of her lower leg indicated long hours squatting on tasks. This could also have been because she suffered nutritional deficiency in childhood. A clincher for me was that she had high lead levels in her teeth. This suggests she had spent her childhood in the Mendips, Derbyshire or the Pennines. These were marginal areas and poor for farming.
A Face for Zuri
The museum displayed a head sculpted from the skull of ‘The Shepperton Woman’. It is rare to find such a skull because most bodies in that period were subjected to excarnation. It is the nearest I shall get to a face for our pagan ancestor Zuri. Women in the Neolithic period in Britain were remarkable. Say hello to your relative!