Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years

by - Saturday, April 18, 2009

2009 Maiwa Textile Symposium

Sunday Wednesday October 28, 2009 at 7pm
Vancouver Museum (MacMillan Space Centre Auditorium)

Elizabeth Barber’s lecture at the last symposium was a sensation. This year she returns to deliver a talk based on her groundbreaking book Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years.

Twenty thousand years ago, women were making and weaving the first clothing created from spun fibres. In fact, right up to the Industrial Revolution the fibre 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. The extreme perishability of what women produced is largely responsible for this omission – a gap that leaves out virtually half the picture of prehistoric history.

Join Elizabeth Barber as she puts the picture back together and shows how the economic engine of the ancient and early modern worlds was the fabric industry, an industry that was the almost exclusive province of women.


Dr. Elizabeth Wayland Barber is Professor of Archaeology and Linguistics and co-chair of the Classics Program at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She holds degrees in archaeology, Greek, and linguistics from Bryn Mawr College and Yale University.

Nearly 30 years of research on the origin and development of textiles and clothing in Europe and western Eurasia have resulted in three books. All have been awarded book prizes by the Costume Society of America, and one by the American Historical Association. Two were selected by Book of the Month Club. She has also written a book on archaeological decipherment (1974) as well as numerous articles. Most recently, she and her husband, Paul Barber, co-authored a book on mythology, titled When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth (Princeton, 2005).

Elizabeth Barber joins us from the United States.


Prehistoric Textiles:
The Development of Cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, with Special Reference to the Aegean

Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years:
Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

The Mummies of Ürümchi

When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth (with Paul Barber)

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