Archaeology breakthrough: ‘It’s now clear’ women flipped gender roles, hunted big game too

The centuries-old notion of gender-specific household roles is looking increasingly shaky thanks to a 9,000-year-old discovery. Until now, historians have agreed the division of labour in early human groups saw men hunt for food while women foraged and gathered. But researchers at the University of California, Davis have uncovered in Peru’s Andes Mountains an ancient burial that shows women too participated in the hunt.

And in doing so, they have challenged the notion there is a prehistoric precedent for women playing a lesser role in society.

The groundbreaking discovery uncovered a 9,000-year-old female hunter burial kitted out with a wide array of stone tools likely used for hunting and butchering.

And this female hunter was not alone as archaeologists in North and South America have discovered a roughly equal number of hunt-related burials from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene that were men and women.

Lead author and anthropology professor Randy Haas said: “An archaeological discovery and analysis of early burial practices overturns the long-held ‘man-the-hunter’ hypothesis.”

The findings were presented today (November 4) in the journal Science Advances, in a paper titled Females Hunters of the Early Americas.

Professor Haas said: “We believe that these findings are particularly timely in light of contemporary conversations surrounding gendered labour practices and inequality.

“Labour practices among recent hunter-gatherer societies are highly gendered, which might lead some to believe that sexist inequalities in things like pay or rank are somehow ‘natural.’

“But it’s now clear that sexual division of labour was fundamentally different – likely more equitable – in our species’ deep hunter-gatherer past.”

It’s now clear that sexual division of labour was fundamentally different

Randy Haas, University of California, Davis

The discovery was made in 2018 during high-altitude excavation at a site in modern-day Peru known as Wilamaya Patjxa.

The archaeologists uncovered a burial with a hunting toolkit containing an array of sharpened rocks, choppers, scrappers and a possible knife.

According to the researchers, items found alongside buried remains are indicative of the role they played in life.

And the team’s osteologist determined the remains found within belonged to a woman.

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This conclusion was later confirmed by an analysis of a dential protein in the remains.

To date, published records show a total of 429 individuals from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene buried across 107 sites in North and South America.

Among these people, 27 have been associated with big-game hunting – 11 were female while 15 were male.

Even more incredibly, the Wilamaya Patjxa hunter is believed to be the earliest known hunter burial in the Americas.

The findings have led the researchers to estimate between 30 and 50 percent of hunters in these ancient populations were female.

The estimates fly in the face of more recent hunter-gatherer societies, Professor Haas said, as well as modern-day farming and capitalist communities were women have a lower participation rate in activities.

The researchers wrote in their paper: “Theoretical insights suggest that the ecological conditions experienced by early hunter-gatherer populations would have favoured big-game hunting economies with broad participation from both females and males.

“Such models align with epistemological critiques that186reduce seemingly paradoxical tool associations to cultural or ethnographic biases.

“Wilamaya Patjxa Individual1 and the sum of previous archaeological observations on early hunter-gatherer burials support this hypothesis, revealing that early females in the Americas were big-game hunters.”

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