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Blame agriculture for sexual inequality?

Prehistoric human societies were probably egalitarian places with equality between the sexes, a position that only changed with the advent of agriculture, scientists say.

With more settled societies, with stored resources, men were able to have more wives, and therefore more children than the women had, and build networks of kin the better to dominate society, according to a study, led by anthropologist Mark Dyble of University College London.

The research looked at contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes for evidence of how human societies might have been organised before agriculture emerged.

“There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged,” Dyble told The Guardian.

The scientists collected data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines, looking at kinship, movement between camps and residence patterns.

Both populations live in groups of around 20, moving roughly every 10 days.

“When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” Dyble was quoted as saying. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.”