Bronze age gender inequality? Analysis of 2,500-year-old teeth shows different diets for boys and girls

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Credit: BBC

Analysing 2500-year-old teeth has thrown open a window onto life and gender inequality during Bronze Age China.

The University of Otago-led research has cast light on breastfeeding, weaning, evolving diets and the difference between what girls and boys were eating, lead researcher Dr. Melanie Miller, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Otago’s Department of Anatomy, says.

The teeth come from the Central Plains of China and date from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, between 771 and 221 BC.

The analysis of 23 individuals from two different archaeological sites shows children were breastfed until they were between 2.5 and four years old, with weaning onto solids—consisting mostly of wheat and soybean—occurring slightly earlier in females than in males.

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“For the two communities we studied, food was an integral aspect of identity, and it was a medium of differentiation between females and males. We found dietary differences between the sexes began in early childhood and continued over the lifetime.”

Males continued to eat more of the traditional crop, millet, while females consumed more of the “new” foods such as wheat and soy, Dr. Miller says. That wheat and soy foods were important components of childhood diets suggests they were incorporated into local culinary practices as weaning foods.

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