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Dossier: Genre et archéologie

Women without History? History without women? Studies on the representation of prehistoric gender roles in Austrian exhibitions

Kerstin Kowarik et Jutta Leskovar
p. 51-55


Les expositions archéologiques présentent non seulement des données chronologiques, de la culture matérielle et des techniques de production, mais aussi sur l’organisation sociale et la dynamique sociale. Cela cela comprend aussi le genre et ses développements au cours du temps. Afin d’explorer plus loin ces informations nous avons mis sur pied un projet d’analyse des expositions permanentes en Autriche. Notre postulat de départ était que nous allions rencontrer dans nos enquêtes des modèles: des représentations stéréotypées des relations entre les sexes, et dans une moindre importance des femmes dans la sphère de l'artisanat, de l'économie, de la politique et de la subsistance. Nous ne nous attendions pas à rencontrer des images fortes du rôle des femmes ou les montrant comme influentes et actives. Les données préliminaires confirment une grande partie de nos hypothèses initiales: les femmes, quand elles sont représentées, sont dépeintes comme inactives et inproductives.

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1Archaeological exhibitions make statements not only about chronology, material culture and production techniques, but also about aspects of social organization and dynamics. This includes statements about gender roles and their development through time. In order to investigate these statements further we initiated a project analysing the permanent archaeological exhibitions of Austria. The project was structured by the following research questions:

  • Do permanent exhibitions on pre- and protohistory in Austria raise gender related issues?

  • Do these exhibitions make statements about the roles of men and women in pre- and protohistory?

  • How are these issues presented to the public? By which means? On what level? And in what intensity?

2The project's aims are to document the current state of affairs and to analyse the way in which these issues are presented to the public, and to outline the images of men-women relations presented to the public.

3At the start of the project a number of hypotheses were formulated. First, gender related issues are rarely explicitly adressed, but frequently implied and thus presented to the public. The predominant concepts presented are „traditional“ gender relations (distribution of power, working tasks etc.).

4Second, the representation of „gender messages“ in text and images will be divergent: the text presents fewer and more guarded statements, while the images are stronger and less contained.

5We present here the first results of the project started in 2009 and due to be completed in 2015/2016.

6The study sample encompasses all thirteen permanent exhibtions on pre- and protohistory in Austria, and addresses both their texts and images.

7The documentation and analysis of eight exhibitions in the following institutions has already been completed: Keltenmuseum Hallein (Dürrnberg), Kärntner Landesmuseum Klagenfurt, Steirisches Landesmuseum Joanneum Graz, Museum Hallstatt, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Linz, Stadtmuseum Minoriten Wels, Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum Innsbruck, Vorarlberger Landesmuseum Bregenz.

8The documentation and analysis of five exhibitions in the following institutions is still underway: Burgenländisches Landesmuseum Eisenstadt, Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, Niederösterreichisches Landesmuseum Asparn/Zaya, Salzburger Museum Carolino Augusteum, Stadtmuseum Nordico Linz.

Text analysis

9For the analysis of the exhibitions texts the Quantitative Content Analysis according to Mayring (Mayring 2003) was chosen, based on previous positive experiences with this method (Leskovar 2012). The method was developed in the social sciences and is well equipped to handle large amounts of written text.

10The method requires explicit and detailed research questions and the development of a classification and coding system. For data handling and analysis, the software Maxqda was chosen.

11In order to be analysed the text has to be digitized, research questions need to formulated and a coding system has to be established. The text is then evaluated phrase by phrase and word by word and all relevant sections are highlighted and coded.

12Three questions were investigated for every exhibition text:

  1. the frequency of gender related statements in relation to exhibition size? Procedure: digitizing the exhibition text (scan or photograph), defining keywords, searching for relevant text sections, and flag and count relevant sections

  2. Is there an explanantion why specific statements are being made? To what degree? Procedure: take all text sections identified under „Question 1“, and categorize them with codes : code 2.1. „no explanation“, code 2.2. „brief suggestion “, code 2.3. „detailed discussion“.

  3. Are specific activities and aspects of daily life linked to a specific gender? Procedure: take all text sections identified under „Question 1“ and in addition all text sections that refer in any way to activities or aspects of daily life, in order to categorize them i two parts : code 3.1. „attributed to biological female“, code 3.2. „attributed to biological male“.


„Eine besondere Sorgfalt ist bei der Freilegung von Körperskeletten geboten. Die unterschiedliche Zusammensetzung des Trachtzubehörs (Fibeln, Hals- und Gürtelschmuck, Arm- und Beinringe sowie die Bewaffnung der Männer), aber auch die in den Grabkammern abgestellten Ton- bzw. Metallgefäße (Beigabenkombination) erlauben aufgrund von Modetrends eine genauere chronologische Einordnung.“ (text Keltenmuseum Hallein)

Translation (K. Kowarik): „The excavation of human skelektal remains requires special attention. The different combinations of costume elements (fibulae, ornaments for the neck and the belt, rings for arms and legs as well as men’s weapons), but also the ceramic and metal vessels (combinations of offerings) allow for a detailed chronological classification based on fashion trends.“ (original text Keltenmuseum Hallein)

13The text section „men’s“ was coded 2.1 („no explanation“). This means that the highlighted text section and its direct context (other text sections, illustrations) do not provide any explanation as to why the indiviuals with weapons were identified as male. No reference is made to anthropological analysis or other grounds for the identification as male. But without this information the visitor cannot contextualize this text section as an interpretation versus a statement of fact.

„Das charakteristische Männergrab der Hallstattzeit ist im Vergleich zu den Frauengräbern viel dürftiger ausgestattet. Die beiden Fibeln schlossen das Gewand, das Bronzeblech schmückte den Gürtel; drei Lanzen bildeten die Bewaffnung des Kriegers.“ (text Keltenmuseum Hallein)

Translation (K. Kowarik): „Compared to female burials the typical male burial of the Early Iron Age is much poorer in terms of grave goods. The pair of fibulae was used to hold the clothing together, the bronze sheet served as belt ornament; three lances represented the warrior’s weapons. (original text Keltenmuseum Hallein)

14Again the highlighted sections were coded as 2.1 („no explanation“) and in addition as 3.2 („attributed to biological male“), given that a specific gender is correlated with a specific activity and a specific social role. The coding is not meant to judge these statements, but simply allows for collecting all references to activities and social roles correlated with men and women in the analysed text.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1

Screenshot image analysis with Maxqda software

Text analysis: preliminary results

15The permanent exhibition on pre- and protohistory of the Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Linz has a surface of 350 m². The text analysis resulted in only five coded segments: twice „no explanation“, twice „brief suggestion“, once „detailed discussion“. No correlations between a specific activity/social role and gender were observed. An attempt was made to deal with the issue of gender roles and relations, through a small number of critical remarks and a non-discussion of these issues on a general level. Thus stereotyped images were avoided, but the visitor is provided with only few stepping stones to develop own ideas about gender relations in the past. The analysis of these texts represented a certain challenge as they had been written by one of the authors of this paper (Jutta Leskovar).

16The exhibition in the Keltenmuseum Hallein extends over a much larger surface of 1800 m2. Accordingly the number of coded text segments is much higher: 20 segments were coded „no explanation“, one segment „brief suggestion“, nine segments „attributed to biological male“ and four segments „attributed to biological female“. No text segment was coded „Detailed discussion“. On the other hand correlations between activities/social roles and gender are frequent. Thus the visitor lacks the means to contextualize the received information as an 1) interpreation and 2) one possible interpretation amongst others.

Images analysis: method and procedure

17The approach is based on Brigitte Röder’s analysis of life scenes (Röder 2002). To ensure comparability all categories established by B. Röder were used in our analysis and some new ones were added.

18The approach is focused on activities: Basically pictures are analysed following three questions:

  • How many men and women are represented?

  • What activities are depicted? How often?

  • Who does what? Female, male or child? How often?

19Again the Maxqda software for qualitative data analysis was used.

20The procedure is comparable to the procedure of the text analysis. The pictures were digitized. A coding system was developped. Relevant segments of images were highlighted and coded (fig. 1).


21The images were coded using a categorisation in three parts: subsistence, social life and gender (defined in the table below).


agricultural work, building, ceramic production, clearing work, collecting, fetching water, fishing, hunting, metal work, mining,

preparing and preserving of food, production and manufacture of leather and textiles, transport, trade, wood work

Social life:

Art, being idle, competition, cult/ritual, discovery, eating, emotions, interaction with children, leadership, personal hygiene

Quarrelling, riding a horse/driving a chariot, spending time together, serving, setting up megaliths, talking, warfare

Gender categories

Child, female, probable female, male, probable male, unknown

Study sample

22Analysed categories encompassed representations of life scenes in 2-D (drawings) and 3-D (mannequins) and technical reconstructions in 2-D (drawings) and 3-D (mannequins).

2338 representations (2D and 3D) and eight exhibitions allow us to define 71 coded segments in total, with 33 life scenes (29 drawings, four 3-D representations) of which 27 and 5 reconstruction scenes (3 drawings, two 3-D representations) are in the Keltenmuseum Hallein.

24Whereas life scenes according to our understanding tell a story about life in a specific prehistoric setting, technological reconstructions serve to visualise technological aspects such as e.g. bronze casting or the correct way to fix a specific ornament.

25Photographs and drawings depicting ethnographic or historic analogies were not included in the analysis.

Image analysis: preliminary results

26In total 17 women were depicted, 41 men and 3 children. (fig. 2). In life scenes, there are 13 women, 39 men, 3 children, and in reconstruction: 4 women, 2 men, again children.

27These preliminary analysis underlines the activities represented in the life scenes.

28The main activities are social ones (fig. 3): competition (2), cult spectator (4), eating/drinking (8), riding a horse/driving a chariot (5), spending time together (7), talking (6), warfare (3), serving, discovering, leadership, cult protagonist (1 each).

29It should be noted that some socials activites were not observed: display of emotion, art, personal hygiene, erecting megaliths, interaction with children, quarrel, being idle.

30In second comes subsistence activities (fig. 4): agriculture, unspecified (3), food production (3), mining (5), fishing, metal work, production or manufacture of textile and leather (2 each)

31trade, wood work, agriculture harvest, agriculture plowing, transporting (1 each).

32There are also activities that were not observed: making/extinguishing fire, construction work, hunting, agriculture sowing, wood clearing, collecting, ceramic production, fetching water.

Fig. 2

Fig. 2

Quantitative representation of men, women and children in life scenes and reconstruction scenes

Fig. 3

Fig. 3

Represented activities Social

Fig. 4

Fig. 4

Represented activities Subsistence

Correlation of specific activities with gender in the life scenes

33As expected activities are not equally distributed between men and women (fig. 5).

34More types of activities are attributed to men (17:7) and men are shown to be more active. Women are shown to be less active and with a more narrow field of action (cf. Röder 2002: 44). Several activities are exclusively carried out by one gender. Again men are shown with a broader field of action than women (17:2).

Fig. 5

Fig. 5

Activities and gender (men, women in absolute numbers).

35Activities were then clustered in bigger groups (table below): two groups are reflecting social activites with a distinction between activities that are more passive and related to consumption and the more active/productive activities, Craft acitivities and Subsistence activities

Social 1

encompassing activities that are more passive and related to consumption


spending time together (sitting)


Social 2

grouping the more active/productive activities:




riding a horse/driving a chariot



Subsistence activities

agriculture, harvesting

agriculture, plowing

agriculture, unspecified


food production



Craft acitivities

metal work


textile/leather work

wood work

36Quantitative analysis draws a very clear picture (fig. 6 und 7). The majority of women are represented in Social 1. Nine of 13 women (or 70% of all women represented) are grouped in Social 1. Whereas 12 of 39 men are represented in Social 1 (31% of all men represented). Men are represented in Social 1 and 2 in equal numbers. In contrast only one woman is grouped in Social 2. The groups Subsistence and Craft show a similar picture.

37Women are mainly represented in relation with unproductive/passive activities.

Fig. 6

Fig. 6

Activities clustered in groups: Social 1, Social 2, Subsistence, Crafts (absolute numbers)

Fig. 7

Fig. 7

Activities clustered in groups: Social 1, Social 2, Subsistence, Crafts (percentages)

Alone or together?

38Finally it was considered whether men and women were predominantly depicted alone or in groups.

39In life scenes women are never represented alone or in all-female groups. In contrast men are shown alone, in all-male groups and in mixed groups.

40In the reconstruction scenes women were shown alone four times, men alone and mixed groups once each.


41The preliminary results presented above draw a picture that is surprising in certain aspects but not unexpected in others. The project begun with certain expectations on the authors’ part. Based on Brigitte Röder’s research and our own subjective impressions of archaeological exhibitions, we assumed that we would encounter certain patterns in our investigations:

  • stereotyped representations of gender relations, especially „typical“ male tasks and „typical“ female tasks,

  • a lesser importance of women in subsistence and craft activities,

  • a lesser importance of women/female roles in the economic and political sphere,

  • less representations of women,

  • also we did not expect to encounter images of strong females or female roles or images showing women as influential and active individuals.

  • Indeed, our preliminary data confirms much of the above:

  • in sheer numbers women are clearly underrepresented in the lifes scenes,

  • the field of female activities represented is much narrower than that of men.

42Concerning the tasks/activities correlated with men and women, we made certain surprising observations. Whereas men are represented undertaking „typical“ male activities such as mining, metal work, exerting leadership, participating in competition etc., women are rarely represented carrying out „typical“ female taks such as cooking, caring for children, weaving, spinning etc. In fact they do not seem to do much at all. Basically women, when they are represented, are eating, drinking, sitting together and talking. So they are not even portrayed as active and productive in the „traditional“ female sphere. So what is the emerging picture? In respect to women there seems to be no picture emerging. As visitor one is forced to wonder whether women were actually around in prehistoric times.

43At this point it is necessary to emphasise again that the results presented here are preliminary, since five exhibitions still remain to be analysed. Currently the Keltenmuseum Hallein strongly influences the study sample with its large exhibition surface and its numerous representations. The strong focus on „typical“ male activities is partly derived from this exhibition’s focus on mining, which is usually understood to be a male activity and represented accordingly, although the historical record does not show things in that light (Reschreiter et al. 2014, Gier & Mercier 2006, Kroker 1989)

44The final data analysis will show whether the tendencies observed so far persist or fade. A bigger data set will hopefully also shed light on one aspect that cannot be evaluated at present: We observed that the female/male ratio in life scenes strongly varied from the female/male ratio in reconstruction scenes. Women are more frequently represented in reconstruction scenes. One could theorize why women are more frequently depicted in scenes that deal with a technical/factual sphere than in representations that deal with our ideas about the past (life scenes). But currently our data set includes only five reconstruction scenes, which is not enough for conclusions of any kind.

45Going back to the questions we raised initially:

46Do the permanent exhibitions on pre- and protohistory in Austria raise gender related issues?

47Yes, they do, but to a very varying degree. The exhibitions analysed so far can be roughly split in two groups:

  • narrative exhibitions with an important number of images,

  • non-narrative exhibitions focusing on the display of archaeological finds.

48Do these exhibitions make statements about the roles of men and women in pre- and protohistory?

49Yes, but again to a varying degree. The main difference derives from the above distinguished exhibition types (narrative, non-narrative). Naturally narrative exhibitions make more statements, whereas non-narrative exhibitions try to avoid statements on society in general.

50How are these issues presented to the public? Through which means? On what level? And in what intensity?

51Statements on gender issues are made on the text level and the image level. In both categories statements tend to be implicit rather than taking up the issue for a focused discussion. This is also relevant for both exhibition types. Whereas non-narrative exhibitions make less statements in total, the quality of the statements is not so different. Conscious reflexion of these issues seems to be rare in both cases.

52In concluding we wish to stress that the observations described in the present paper do not represent in our view simply an „Austrian condition“. Our data sample might be derived from Austrian museums, but the observed patterns of prehistoric gender representation appear to us to be international!

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Kroker W. 1989. Frauen und Bergbau. Zeugnisse aus fünf Jahrhunderten. Ausstellung des deutschen Bergbau-Museums Bochum vom 29. August bis 10. Dezember 1989. Deutsches Bergbaumuseum Bochum. Bochum, Bergbaumuseum.

Gier, J.; Mercier L. 2006 (éds.). Mining Women. Gender in the development of a global industry, 1670 to the present. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Leskovar J. 2012. Kämpfen um die Kelten. Archäologische Argumente in der neuheidnischen Literatur und der Keltenbegriff in der Fachliteratur. Keltische Forschungen, Allgemeine Buchreihe 2, Wien.

Mayring P. 2003. Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. Grundlagen und Techniken. Weinheim.

Reschreiter, H.; Pany, D.; Gröbner, D. 2014: « Kinderarbeit in 100 m Tiefe. Neue Lebensbilder zum prähistorischen Bergbau », in: R. Karl & J. Leskovar (éds.), Interpretierte Eisenzeiten. Fallstudien, Methoden, Theorie. Tagungsbeiträge der 5. Linzer Gespräche zur interpretativen Eisenzeitarchäologie. Studien zur Kulturgeschichte von Oberösterreich, Folge 37. Linz, Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum: 25-37.

Röder, B. 2002. « Botschaften aus der Gegenwart: Die Darstellung von Geschlechterrollen auf Lebensbildern zur Urgeschichte », in: Lebensbilder – Scènes de vie. Actes du colloque de Zoug (13-14 mars 2001). Arbeitsgemeinschaft für die Urgeschichtsforschung der Schweiz (AGUS). Zug, Kantonales Museum für Urgeschichte Zug: 43-51.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1
Légende Screenshot image analysis with Maxqda software
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Titre Fig. 7
Légende Activities clustered in groups: Social 1, Social 2, Subsistence, Crafts (percentages)
Fichier image/png, 25k
Titre Fig. 3
Légende Represented activities Social
Fichier image/png, 41k
Titre Fig. 4
Légende Represented activities Subsistence
Fichier image/png, 40k
Titre Fig. 5
Légende Activities and gender (men, women in absolute numbers).
Fichier image/png, 38k
Titre Fig. 6
Légende Activities clustered in groups: Social 1, Social 2, Subsistence, Crafts (absolute numbers)
Fichier image/png, 23k
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Kerstin Kowarik et Jutta Leskovar, « Women without History? History without women? Studies on the representation of prehistoric gender roles in Austrian exhibitions  »Les nouvelles de l'archéologie, 140 | 2015, 51-55.

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Kerstin Kowarik et Jutta Leskovar, « Women without History? History without women? Studies on the representation of prehistoric gender roles in Austrian exhibitions  »Les nouvelles de l'archéologie [En ligne], 140 | 2015, mis en ligne le 30 juin 2015, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Kerstin Kowarik

Natural History Museum Vienna

Jutta Leskovar

Oberösterreichisches Landesmusem

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