Women were metal workers during the Bronze Age!

Researchers found evidences. Women did metal work in the Bronze Age.

An Austrian museum says skeletal remains found in an ancient grave are that of a woman metal worker – the first indication that women did such work thousands of years ago.

The Museum of Ancient History says the grave originates from the Bronze Age, which began more than 5000 years ago and ended 3200 years ago.

In a statement on Wednesday, it said that although the pelvic bones were missing, examination of the skull and lower jaw bone shows the skeleton is of a woman.

The museum says tools used to make metal ornaments were also found in the grave northwest of Vienna, leading to the conclusion that it was that of a female fine metal worker.

It says such work had been commonly presumed to be in the male domain.

Archaeologists said women were metal workers in the Bronze Age. Women used to make tools and weapons and jewelries. They were hard-working people. The remains of a woman metal worker from the Bronze Age have recently been found. She was buried with an anvil, hammers, flint chisels and some small pieces of dress jewelry. Archaeologists believe this discovery will challenge ideas about the division of labor in prehistoric times. Smithing is a strenuous, physical, manual occupation, so it has always been seen as a male , never a female occupation. But scientists and researchers today are saying the opposite of what people have known for centuries.

Many people would think weapons and tools that were found in female graves do not necessarily prove that females made those weapons and tools. They would say, ‘Sometimes the objects could relate to the individual’s profession but they could equally be there because they looked good or were put into the grave by relatives and didn’t belong to the individual.’ Even debates are good rather than conclude prehistoric stories by saying, women did nothing but gathering berries, nuts and seeds, breastfeeding babies, spinning and weaving.

How could you be so sure that women did not hunt woolly mammoths?


  1. katkinkate says

    The history of science has often shown that the conclusions reached from the data is often strongly affected by the cultural environment the scientist is from. Especially in the areas of human history, anthropology and biology. That is, even the most objective scientist has trouble seeing outside his/her own world view when judging/analysing other people.

    I recently saw a documentary about the prehistory of Britain and part of it was on the early development of metal-working, ie. mostly bronze, some gold. In the documentary they showed closeups of the process as the contemporary expert showed how they used to smelt the copper. Just the hands were in view, setting up the fire and the chimney to intensify the fire and melt the ore, then she started to speak and explain what she was doing. I must admit it was an uncomfortable moment for me as I acknowledged a small jolt of shock. I had pictured a big stereotypical blacksmith with bulging muscles, but looking at the process, there was no need for a huge muscly man. It was all small-scale, no heavy lifting and it was easy for the medium-sized anthropologist to do. There was no physical reason why a woman couldn’t be a metal-smith at that scale.

  2. says

    Of course women would do this sort of work. The men would sit around chewing hallucinogenic herbs, or throwing small bones around for gambling while upper class men would throw slightly bigger and more ornate things around for divination so they could be priests.

  3. mynameischeese says

    I think the issue of work is a double-edge sword from a feminist perspective. On one hand, a culture can keep women down by claiming that women aren’t capable of certain kinds of work, especially physical work. But there’s no such thing as proving yourself as a woman because a culture can also treat women as work horses and thus keep them out of intellectual life.

  4. Francisco Bacopa says

    I always thought it odd that the in the Bible it says to put to death “every woman who has known a man” while in the Iliad female prisoners of war are treated treated as highly valuable slaves because of their technical skills. I can’t remember any mention of metal work though.

    I know it’s still slavery, but if I were a woman in the Bronze Age I’d rather be captured by Agamemnon than any Old Testament leader.

    Does anyone know if there’s any evidence from ancient literature for women working with metal? How about in African cultures? The “Bantu iron” smelting process is labor intensive. Did women participate?

  5. Menyambal --- Sambal's Little Helper says

    I’ve a sister who trained as a blacksmith, and another sister who makes metal jewelry. The only working farrier (one who shoes horses) I have met was a woman.

    The blacksmith sister also worked in a studio that made brass metal sculptures, and their staff was both men and women. (I was shopping in an upscale city boutique, once, and was fascinated by an ornate mobile sculpture. At the time, I did not know that it was probably her work.)

    Women are often assumed to be the stay-at-homes, tending the hearth, with gentle hands and an eye for pretty things. Who else would be melting bronze and shaping it into something nice?

    I mean, if you want an iron tire stretched onto a wheel rim, round up some big guys, but bronze work is not brawny work. Some men have been making manly assumptions.

    • Menyambal --- Sambal's Little Helper says

      Further clarification.

      Bronze work involves melting copper and tin together, and pouring it into moulds. It’s not much different from cooking food, which is traditionally considered to be women’s work, as far as temperature and muscular effort is concerned. Putting an edge on a cast bronze dagger isn’t any more effort than grinding grain.

      Iron is a different process entirely, and more muscular. The temperatures for melting are too high to achieve without pumping a lot of air into the fire. Shaping iron is usually done by just hammering it into shape—heating helps, but the hot iron has to be moved about, and hammered at arm’s length. Making iron into steel used to involve a lot more heat and hammering. It’s hard physical work.

      Bronze work could be done as a sideline to cooking, say, and was probably started when somebody noticed copper beads that had melted out of the rocks under a cooking fire. Iron work was harder and slower and could best be done by a specialist in a dedicated workshop.

      It is important to recall that iron came after bronze, many years after. Bronze Age, then Iron Age.

      It seems likely to me that women were the original bronze workers, and that men, later, were the main iron workers, just by the nature of the materials.

      • says

        “The temperatures for melting are too high to achieve without pumping a lot of air into the fire.” Or course it is actually more difficult than that. To get to iron smelting temperatures, the air feeding the fire must be preheated, by another fire.

      • says

        “The temperatures for melting are too high to achieve without pumping a lot of air into the fire.” Of course it is actually more difficult than that. To get to iron smelting temperatures, the air feeding the fire must be preheated, by another fire.

  6. jose says

    This “graves often contain objects related to the life of the individuals, except if it’s a woman next to a weapon, in which case it was probably just a gift or something else” business is decidedly suspicious.

  7. JustSpiffy says

    Well of course, why not! We could have here the inevitable exception that comes with every rule, or we could have one of many female metal workers. Who knows!

    What’s more impressive, isn’t that she had the physical strength to do what was considered a male job, but that she was able to circumvent the stigma of metal working being a male profession. People were very extreme and intolerant back then.

  8. lpetrich says

    Elizabeth Wayland Barber has worked on a common bit of craftswomanship: fabrics. Spinning and weaving. That’s been in female hands for millennia, as she documents in Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times.

    New discoveries about the textile arts reveal women’s unexpectedly influential role in ancient societies.

    Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and wearing the first clothing created from spun fibers. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fiber arts were an enormous economic force, belonging primarily to women.

    Despite the great toil required in making cloth and clothing, most books on ancient history and economics have no information on them. Much of this gap results from the extreme perishability of what women produced, but it seems clear that until now descriptions of prehistoric and early historic cultures have omitted virtually half the picture.

    • lpetrich says

      I’ll concede that my previous post may seem off-topic, but it indicates that many women of past millennia were not housewives as we would understand housewifery, but engaged in cottage industries, as many men did. In fact, before the Industrial Revolution, just about all of what we’d consider industrial production was done in cottage-industry fashion.

      So if women were spinners and weavers, women could also be metalworkers.

  9. left0ver1under says

    Patriarchal religion (and its subjugation of women) is only about 2500 years old, so this fits that timeline.

  10. Confused says

    Why do we constantly have to “prove” women have ever done anything other than sit around and breed babies, take care of babies, and cook for the mens; when in every age of history there are mountains of evidence to show women have always done plenty of things aside from this, in every profession – unless they were violently forced out of said professions?

    In short, why should it be surprising that women were metal workers? There’s really no reason at all to imagine they wouldn’t have been. Well, other than extreme sexism. There’s no reason to imagine prehistoric women didn’t do any of the same things prehistoric men did. The burden of proof should be on finding that they didn’t.

  11. Ysanne says

    In a tiny bit more recent history, women also managed to be active as construction workers, factory workers and in all other kinds of “male” professions: In Germany, during and after the end of WWII, when most men of working age were away with the military or simply dead. (“Trümmerfrauen” is a good term to google.) When the men came back, women had to go back in the kitchen.
    Weird that all the “women can’t and won’t do any of the actually important male work, so they should shut up and be grateful” diatribes forget about periods like these…

  12. Fran says

    I am a middle aged woman and in my younger years had a lot of physical strength, not because I was born with it, but because I wanted to work outdoors and needed it. I was as strong as most men I worked with and sometimes more so (in hard tree felling jobs). Women have the capacity to develop muscle, just as men have the capacity not to, should they so choose. There are some differences, but they are not that huge.
    The key is to treat everyone as individuals (feminine, masculine, androgynous, undifferentiated). We can be whoever we want to be. I have learnt this through my own physical labours. Men should not feel they should have to be strong any more than women should feel they has to be ‘weak’. But, we are bio-psycho-social beings, and that means society organises our muscles as much as it does our brains…


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