Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of Anthropology

Committee Chair

Douglas H. MacDonald

Commitee Members

John Douglas, Dusten Hollist


gender, prehistoric plains, Yellowstone, women, lifeways, gender archaeology


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies


This thesis examines three lines of evidence within the precontact archaeological record around Yellowstone Lake, focusing on elucidating female-specific lifeways. This work is undertaken as a means to explore concepts of gender within precontact archaeological contexts. This aim is accomplished using statistical analysis of lithic tool distribution patterns, ethnohistoric information on plants found through archaeobotanical assays and the microspatial examination of cultural fire features.

Variation in the use of obsidian and chert for unifacial tool manufacture indicates potential restrictions on the manufacture of gender specific tools as these stone resources become less available. In addition, a frame-of-reference is built by associating archaeobotanical remains with their ethnohistoric uses, including unique female-specific uses for pregnancy, menstruation and spiritual purposes. Finally, a microspatial analysis of cultural fire features reveals intentional creation of roasting and/or boiling pits, which indicates the processing of plant foods. Because these types of features require a greater investment of time and energy, and the processing of plants is typically a female-specific domain, the inference is that these were female-specific activity areas.

The focus of this research is novel, in that it is the only work focused specifically on questions of gender and gender dynamics in precontact Yellowstone. Because gender is often overlooked or deemed too ephemeral to be gleaned from the archaeological record of hunter-gatherer societies, the implications of these findings are three-fold. First, there is a clear demonstration of the effective use of common methodological approaches in archaeology (statistical, ethnography, spatial analysis) in order to answer a question that is not commonly asked: “where are the women?” Second, the importance of understanding the lifeways of precontact people in the social context of group relations not only provides more nuanced understanding, but also breathes life into chronically depersonalized archaeological interpretations. Third, this work demonstrates the importance of utilizing previously collected archaeological data in order to build upon past research interpretations, which is in the interest of the sustainability of the archaeological enterprise.



© Copyright 2015 Cathy J. Beecher