Ancient burial hints that prehistoric women may have hunted as much as men

Scientists have unearthed a 9,000-year-old female hunter burial in the Andes Mountains of South America which counters the long-held belief that when early human groups sought food, men hunted and women gathered.

“An archaeological discovery and analysis of early burial practices overturns the long-held ‘man-the-hunter’ hypothesis,” said Randy Haas, lead author of the study from the University of California (UC), Davis in the U.S.

The researchers believe the findings, published in the journal Science Advances, are particularly timely in light of contemporary conversations surrounding gendered labour practices and inequality.

Sexual division of labour

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

In 2018, during archaeological excavations at a high-altitude site called Wilamaya Patjxa in what is now Peru, the researchers found an early burial that contained a hunting toolkit with projectile points and animal-processing tools. They said the objects accompanying people in death tended to be those that accompanied them in life. Based on an analysis of the bones and dental proteins, the study found that the hunter was likely female.

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