A new study reveals that prehistoric women played a leading role in hunting
For a long time it was assumed that hunting in prehistoric societies was mainly done by men.
Now, a new study adds to the evidence challenging this idea.
The researchers analyzed a female body , buried about 9,000 years ago alongside hunting tools, in the Americas region.
The woman, discovered in the Andean highlands, was nicknamed Wilamaya Patjxa individual 6 , or “WPI6”.
They found her with her legs semi-bent and a collection of stone tools carefully placed next to her.
WPI6 was between 17 and 19 years old when he died.
The analysis of a substance known as “peptides” in her teeth, which are markers of biological sex, revealed that she was a woman.
There were also large mammalian bones in the dirt around his grave , showing how important hunting was in his society.
The authors of the study, published in Science Advances, also looked at other skeletons buried around and from the same period, looking specifically at graves that contain similar tools associated with big game hunting.
They found that of the 27 skeletons in which sex could be determined, 41% were likely female.
The authors believe that big game hunting in that region of America was carried out by men and women in groups of hunter-gatherers.
This idea goes against the hypothesis of the 1960s, known as the “hunter man model”, which has gradually been discredited.
It suggests that hunting, and especially big game hunting, was conducted primarily, if not exclusively, by male members of ancient hunter-gatherer societies.
The hypothesis is based on different evidences.
Probably the most significant is the one that examines recent and current hunter-gatherer societies to try to understand how those of thousands of years ago may have been organized.
The stereotypical view of hunter-gatherer groups assumes a gender division of labor in which men were the ones who hunted while women were more likely to stay closer to home with small children or fishing.
In this theory there are some variations.
For example, among Agta gatherers in the Philippines, women are chief hunters rather than assistants.
Some hunter-gatherers today still use atlatls, as in throwing competitions , and it is normal for women and children to participate.
Archaeologists studying these events suggest that the atlatls may well have been the equal factor in facilitating the hunt for both women and men.
The use of such a tool may reduce the importance of the hunter’s body size and strength.
The new study further discredits the 1960s hypothesis and adds to some earlier archaeological finds.
For example, at the 34,000-year-old site at Sunghir in Russia, archaeologists discovered the graves of two young men , one of the bodies likely belonging to a girl between the ages of nine and 11.
Both individuals had physical abnormalities and were buried with 16 mammoth ivory spears, an incredible number of what were likely valuable hunting tools.
In 2017, it was discovered that in the famous grave of a Viking warrior from Sweden, which had been found in the early 20th century, not a man lay, as had long been assumed, but biologically, he belonged to the female gender.
This finding provoked a significant and surprising amount of debate, and reveals how our own modern ideas of gender roles can affect interpretations of more recent history as well.
It has been argued that distinguishing between “boys ‘jobs and girls’ jobs , “ as a former British prime minister put it, could have evolutionary advantages.
For example, you can allow pregnant and nursing mothers to stay close to a base of operations, keeping themselves and young people protected from harm.
But we have growing evidence that this model is too simplistic.
Since hunting is a cornerstone for the survival of many highly mobile hunter-gatherer groups, the involvement of the entire community also makes an evolutionary sense.
The past, as some say, is a foreign country, and the more evidence we have, the more changeable human behavior appears to have been.