During the 1960s, in such works as Man the Hunter, scholars constructed a model of cultural evolution in which men were characterized as "cooperative hunters of big game." Women fit neatly into this model, such books as Woman the Gatherer explained, as gatherers of plant food. In spite of evidence of hunting by women, this model—which incorporated the unexamined assumption that women in prehistory were "immobilized" by pregnancy, lactation, and child care and therefore needed to be left at a home base—came to dominate archaeological interpretation of the economic roles of men and women.
Women in Prehistory challenges this model and undertakes an examination of the archaeological record informed by insights into the cultural construction of gender that have emerged from scholarship in history, anthropology, biology, and related disciplines. Along with analysis of burial assemblages and of representations of gendered individuals, contributors study bone chemistry, assessment of skeletal pathologies, micro- and macro-scale distributional evidence, as well as analogical arguments from ethnoarchaeology and ethnohistory to discuss pottery, shell matrix sites, skeletal material, the domestic setting, and spinning.