old hunter

Men and women in early America shared hunting duties equally

By Christa Lesté-Lasserre

A young woman who lived in prehistory in what is now Peru was a hunter

Matthew Verdolivo, UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services

A young woman buried with stone tools like spearheads in what is now Peru 9,000 years ago likely hunted deer and wild camels. The result could help dispel longstanding assumptions about gender roles in ancient hunter-gatherer communities in America.

In today’s hunter-gatherer communities in North and South America, women make up at least a third, and possibly half, of the hunting force, says Randy Haas of the University of California at Davis.

Although archaeological research in the last century has also found hunting tools in the graves of prehistoric women across America, according to Haas, Haas needed the bones of a young woman in the Andes to break down her subconscious prejudices about gender roles and to realize what she saw.

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“There is a sexist ideology in Western culture that may have slowed our ability to recognize women as hunters in the past,” says Haas, adding that he was “unfortunately” surprised by his discovery.

“Even some of the most forward-thinking feminist scholars had accepted that this was true [that women weren’t usually hunters],” he says.

Haas and his colleagues recently performed carbon dating and protein analysis on bones and teeth found in 2018 in a grave pit less than a meter underground that was discovered in southern Peru. Their results provided “solid” confirmation that the human remains belonged to a 17- to 19-year-old. One-year-old woman buried 8,700 to 9,000 years ago with a 24-part hunting tool with spearheads, butcher knives and tanning blades. The slaughtered remains of deer and camels at the site suggest the animals she hunted.

Rather than assume the teenager was a one-off hunter case, Haas checked the scientific archives for other published discoveries of people buried with hunting implements somewhere “from Alaska to Argentina” somewhere “from Alaska to Argentina” at least 8,000 years ago. Of the 27 burials he identified, almost half recorded the sex of the person buried as female, he says.

In light of the unexpected discovery of hunting blades with female skeletons, the archaeologists who compiled the reports, in most cases, either questioned the accuracy of their own gender verification analysis or stated that the knives and points must have been cooking utensils.

The Peruvian discovery actually fits models of other hunting species like carnivores and non-human primates, says Haas. “I think it’s only surprising when you look at it through the lens of Western stereotypes about job roles in our society,” he says.

Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abd0310

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