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Groundbreaking Discovery Confronts Known Claims Regarding the Roles Women Played in Ancient Societies

​Prehistoric women who lived in the South American Andes have also been hunting, archaeologists have revealed. The old notion of gender-specific roles in the household is now looking extremely down at the heels thanks to a 9,000-year-old discovery.

So far, historians have claimed there was a division of labor in early human groups that saw men hunt for food and women foraging and gathering food. However, researchers from the University of California have unearthed an ancient burial in Peru’s Andes Mountains that shows women participated in the big-game hunt expeditions alongside men.

In doing so, they have challenged the idea that there is a prehistoric precedent for women playing a much lesser role in society.

Women Used to Hunt Alongside Men

The revolutionary discovery revealed a 9,000-year-old female hunter burial packed with various stone tools used for hunting and butchering. This female hunter was not the one found, as archaeologists in North and South America have also discovered an almost equal number of hunt-related burials from the Pleistocene and early Holocene eras that were both men and women.

Stone tools found in the hunter’s burial. [Image Source: Randy Haas/UC Davis]
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 discoveries were revealed on November 4th in the journal Science Advances in a paper titled ‘Females Hunters of the Early Americas.’

Professor Haas explained: “We believe that these findings are particularly timely in light of contemporary conversations surrounding gendered labor practices and inequality. Labor 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 labor was fundamentally different – likely more equitable – in our species’ deep hunter-gatherer past.”

The Earliest-Known Hunter Burial

The finding was made in 2018 during a high-altitude excavation in an area in Peru called Wilamaya Patjxa. The researchers uncovered a burial with hunting tools that contained a set of sharpened rocks, scrapers, choppers, and a possible knife.

As per the archaeologists, items found together with the remains indicate the role they played in the person’s life. The team’s osteologist found that the remains buried at the site belonged to a woman, and an analysis of a dental protein in the remains confirmed the finding.

Until now, published records depict a total of 429 individuals from the Pleistocene and Holocene eras buried in 107 sites across North and South America. Among these people, 27 have been linked to big-game hunting – 15 were male, and 11 were female.

Prehistoric women in the Americas were hunters too. [Image Source: Matthew Verdolivo/UC Davis/IET/Academic T]
What’s more, the Wilamaya Patjxa hunter is believed to be the earliest-known hunter burial in South and North America.

Women Participation in Society: Now and Then

The discoveries have made researchers truthfully estimate that between 30 and 50 percent of hunters in these ancient groups were female. The findings go against more recent hunter-gatherer societies, Professor Haas said, as well as modern-day farming and capitalist nations and communities where women are allowed to only have a lower participation rate in activities.

In their paper, the scientists wrote: “Theoretical insights suggest that the ecological conditions experienced by early hunter-gatherer populations would have favored 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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