It seems that this ape thrived, living in the sea. From the sea it was getting the brain food to develop its brain. Wading most of the time forced it to learn how to walk on two legs all the time. As the females became more aquatic and learnt how to swim out beyond their depth, it was possible for them to collect more food than the males foraging on land. These apes living on the coast would need a supply of fresh water and where there wasn’t a nearby river this could be provided by coconut milk.
With the increase in brain size this ape began to use its brain. Early tool use probably came with breaking open shellfish and coconuts with a club or stone. Woman divers, in digging out shellfish from rocks underwater, would use digging sticks. An early method of catching fish came with using fish traps. These early humans would already find fish trapped in pools left by the outgoing tide. So to increase production they would dig bigger pools and block any channel that allowed the water to drain away in the outgoing tide and allow the fish to escape. In Australia, purpose built fish traps have been discovered, built by Aborigines and constructed with rocks. They also may have started to learn how to construct crude shelters.
Rafts were probably the first sea craft constructed. These would be very helpful for women divers, not only as a platform from which to dive but somewhere to put the food they are collecting from the sea. They might have been used to paddle out to offshore islands to find more food; if they over fished the areas they were living in.
One of the mysteries of understanding the way modern humans emerged out of Africa is explaining how they got to Australia before the first humans reached Europe, which is a lot closer. It has been suggested that modern humans took: “the scenic route out of Africa”. In other words, they followed the coastline all the way from Africa to Australia. For this to happen it suggests that the human population was thriving and expanding by living on the coast. Some may have moved inland and halted the process of becoming aquatic, because they still bred with coastal peoples. This would slow down the rate at which the race developed aquatic features.
On the other hand, an increase in population would also force some humans further out to sea. This is because the shallows would be in danger of being over fished, forcing women to make rafts and dive in deeper and deeper waters. In going out further from land, they would have to learn the art of seawomanship, as there would be times when wind and currents take them out of sight of land, and they had to find their way back. In so doing they will find islands beyond what they can see on the horizon. We know the art of seawomanship would have been learned as far back as 50,000 years ago, because modern humans had to be able to sail beyond the horizon to reach Australia.
Rafts are not the best way to paddle along and therefore there would be pressure to invent something better, either creating a primitive form of sail or learning to hollow out logs to make dugout canoes. Sometimes logs rot from the inside so by cleaning out the rotten wood a crude canoe can be created. This may be how the first dugout canoes were produced.
At this time women would be the dominant sex; this is because on the coast women, being more aquatic than men, would provide the bulk of the food for the tribe. So women would have a higher status than men, and perhaps like in haenyo communities of recent times, men looked after the children on land while the women worked in the sea. Even when some humans began to live inland, and adopted the gatherer/hunter lifestyle, women were still the main breadwinners. All over the world Stone Age people seem to adopt the roles of women gathering food and men hunting. (Though this is not always true; anthropologists have observed Stone Age communities where women do the hunting). Although in his-story the role of hunting is greatly emphasised, in the tropics hunting by men is not very efficient. Even when they invented sophisticated weapons like the bow and arrow, the woomera spear thrower and the boomerang, most hunts end up unsuccessful. Then the tribe is totally reliant on gathering by women for reliable and sustainable food. In many cases it seems that the hunting is more a sport for the men. In tribes in Africa men don’t have a lot to do, women gather the food, look after the children and build the huts. So men spend their time hunting or making war on other tribes.
This changed when humans began to venture north to the colder climates of northern Europe and Asia. In the cold winters there was little food to gather and the tribe became dependant on what food the men could hunt. This increased the status of men within the tribe, a factor that was to later change the course of human history.
This is probably what happened to the Neanderthals. It seems that they lived in a cold climate and survived mostly through hunting. Men became the dominant sex in Neanderthal society. This is confirmed by the robust nature of their skeletons, which showed them to be far stronger physically than modern humans, even though they were smaller in stature. Their strong build happened because the males competed with each other for sexual access to females and only the strongest males were allowed to mate.
The Neanderthal’s smaller size suggested that they weren’t being fed as well as the modern humans that also invaded Europe. Or perhaps the Neanderthal children were not being fed properly. If women were at the bottom of the pecking order of Neanderthal society, then they would find it difficult to feed their children properly. They would only feed when the men had sated their appetite, so the children having less food, were very unlikely to grow to full height.
Human civilization started in the Neolithic age, going back 10,000 years, though it could have started even before this. It was probably women who started civilizations because being the gatherers of the tribe; it would be they who began to plant the seeds that they gathered. What archaeologists have discovered is that these first civilizations were completely peaceful. They found no evidence of weapons of war, fortifications or images of violence. They also worshipped goddesses. No one knows when religion got started, but when human beings began to think of a great intelligence that created the world, they first assumed that it must be female, because the whole of human and animal life is created within the bodies of mothers. So they believed in a deity called the Great Mother who gave birth to the whole world. We find that ancient Neolithic civilizations created many feminine images of Goddesses.
Then about 5,000 years ago there was a big change. Warlike patriarchal tribes from the North conquered these peaceful matriarchal civilizations. Having no weapons or even any desire to fight, these civilizations were easily conquered. In the place of the Great Mother, the men introduced male warrior gods. This was the beginning of the patriarchal age, where men began to rule instead of women.
It seems that the patriarchal society took a long time to take root in human society. At first it would only be the rulers who were patriarchal, while the ordinary people followed their ancient matriarchal customs. Even the rulers were not immune to the influences of the female. In early his-story, marriage was unknown, so men had no way of knowing who their children were. This means that the powerful families who ruled early patriarchal civilizations still had to pass power and wealth down the female line. In ancient Egypt, for a man to become a Pharaoh, he had to marry his sister and in one case the Pharaoh had to marry his mother!
This problem was finally overcome with the introduction of patriarchal style marriage, where the wife was forced to remain ‘faithful’ only to her husband. In many societies, a woman could be executed if she had sex with another man besides her husband. Even today, in some Islamic countries, there are ‘honour’ killings where a husband has a ‘moral’ right to kill his wife if she is unfaithful to him, or even just disobey him. Though the husband still had the right to have sex with other women.
It seems that the last stronghold of matriarchy was the sea-people, who still followed their ancient practices because women remained the main breadwinner in these communities. Those that remain are a living link to our past, when women were important, revered and crucial to the well being of any society. We have forgotten that society can be anything other than male-centred, and in so doing, have lost sight of how peaceful, loving and cooperative a female led community can be. Mermaids point us towards our past, when we lived near water and adapted ourselves to it over millennia. They show us the strength and intelligence of women divers; their capacity to cull food from the sea. But they can also hint at the future, when capable, wise and matriarchal women could solve the problems of our male-dominated, violent and rapacious world.