It turns out Stone Age men may not have been the stoic, macho, callous wooly mammoth hunters we envision them to be in the popular imagination. In her book Death and Dying in the Neolithic Near East, anthropologist Karina Coucher argues that Neolithic men exhibited an unexpected “feminine” side. Her discovery suggests that Neolithic peoples did not share our modern-day notions of gender, reminding us that everybody is capable of showing love and compassion–whether male or female–including those who want to become a minister in an online church.
Coucher made her discovery in southeastern Turkey, where she and her excavation team unearthed the remains of about 40 human beings who lived 7,500 to 10,000 years ago. The pit contained equal numbers of men and women as well as the remains of animals, pottery, obsidian, flint, and other tools used in daily life. It was not a haphazard affair, either, Coucher explains: “In the Death Pit, a specific choice was made to inter these human remains…within its context, and that undoubtedly required care and effort, not only in its construction, but additionally in keeping the area protected and clear of scavengers.” Even today we see the same reverence for the dead we practice as ordained ministers, as well as all the major world religions, in the form of modern-day funeral rites and memorial services.
Both men and women showed great care and compassion for their dead, Coucher argues, citing the meticulous burial of a teenage girl next to the pit. She suggests that the girl, named Kim by the team, was deeply cared for by both the men and women who tended the site, just as were the remains of the others. “When human remains from across the region are examined, it becomes apparent that it was difficult for the living to let go of their loved ones,” she says, pointing out that human faces were recreated on the skulls of the dead using plaster as a gesture of respect. “This treatment was not dependent on age or gender, but according to relationships and emotive ties.” Those who become a minister in an online church to perform funerals would do well to remember this point.
But why do we project modern notions of warring men and mourning women on to the past when the evidence paints a quite different picture? Coucher attributes this tendency in part to the academic status quo. “The stereotypical and inaccurate view of male hunters dominating their more submissive female counterparts is an articulation of male bias in archaeology,” she maintains, emphasizing that the evidence from the Death Pit “shows that it’s clear the relationship between men and women during the Neolithic Period does not conform to the modern age.” If so, maybe ordained ministers and online churches should be questioning this “modern-day bias” in their ministries.
Coucher’s research shows us that who we are, and how we treat one another–not only in the past, but also in the present–is determined largely by situation, context, and the demands of the environment. “[W]e should not understand the past in our own terms: it’s more about their relationships with each other,” she tells us. It may lack the ruggedly romantic allure of the Cave Man archetype peddled by the Ultra-Darwinists, but it does teach those who aspire to become a minister that compassion is the province of male and female alike. After all, Jesus was a man, wasn’t he?