Who Were the Hunters?

Men were the hunters and women were the gatherers; a universally assumed concept about Stone Age societies. Despite this hypothesis, excavations in Perú and the Americas have proved this was untrue.

In 2018, at the Wilamaya Patjxa site high in the Andes, six burials from 9000 years ago were found. Two of the six were hunters. In the 400 square feet of this site near Mulla Fasiri in southern Perú, they found 20,000 artifacts dating from the Early Holocene period.

Big Game Hunting Tools from Peruvian huntress’ burial Photo: Female hunters of the early Americas, Science Advances 04 Nov 2020: Vol. 6, no. 45.

One of the two hunters was buried with projectile points. The other with extensive hunting equipment; spear points, a stone knife, stone animal processing tools and large game animal bones. See tools in the photo above. The team started off saying this second guy must have been a mighty hunter.

They now joke about how their first response was to assume the skeleton was male. However, after testing the teeth enamel, they determined she was female. The hunter was a woman 17 to 19 years of age. The hunter with projectile points alone was male. Newspapers around the world have published the finding about the huntress with great fanfare. This is not the first Holocene era woman found buried with big game hunting tools, however.

Early Burials of the Americas Chart Image: Science Advances article “Female hunters of the early Americas” 04 Nov 2020: Vol. 6, no. 45, eabd0310

One of the head researchers of the team, Richard Haas, examined data from 429 burials in the Americas from 14,000 to 8,000 years ago. Twenty-seven individuals were found with hunting implements for big game; eleven were women and sixteen were men. The use of spear throwers made hunting easily accessible to women or men.

The researcher cautions that gender determination is only certain for the Peruvian site, because of the new technology the group used to analyze the dental proteins of the enamel, to determine if they were male or female. From current evidence, it seems that females may have been 30 to 50% of the big game hunters nine millennia ago. Unlike present hunter/gatherer societies, it seems that thousands of years ago, tasks were not determined by gender.

Archeologists are learning that present social structure is not a good predictor of past labor division. In the Americas, there is an ancient burial of two baby girls with spear points. Who’s to say they wouldn’t have grown up using them as toys?

Another example of false identity at the beginning of a dig is the great Viking warrior king on the Swedish island of Bjorko who was found to be actually a warrior queen. It seems implements of warfare or big game hunting does not prove the person buried is male or female. This does not signify women hunters or warriors were androgynous necessarily, it means there were cultural constructs that accepted more roles for females.

Which archeological site do you find most interesting?

Gracias for investigating Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Thank you to A. Pilco Quispe who found the Peruvian site and the archeology team who performed this ground-breaking research. Their article is: “Female Hunters of the Early Americas.” Randall Haas, James Watson, Tammy Buonasera, John Southon, Jennifer C. Chen, Sarah Noe, Kevin Smith, Carlos Viviano Llave, Jelmer Eerkens, Glendon Parker, et al. Science Advances  04 Nov 2020: Vol. 6, no. 45. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/45/eabd0310

Rebecca Cuningham

18 thoughts on “Who Were the Hunters?

  1. How fascinating. On British TV at the moment there’s a series in which a team of people are making a serious attempt to live as our Stone Age ancestors might have. These are people who have good academic knowledge of the era, as well as others skilled in bush-craft and in living wild, and they were in a remote part of Bulgaria, still untouched by the 1st century.. Seeing the life and death decisions they have to make every day to preserve energy levels as they engage in the never-ending pursuit of food, and less often shelter and clothing is fascinating – and humbling. And yes – we know so little. Did they have gender-assigned roles? So much we may never know …

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s interesting, Margaret. Thanks for your comments. I bet the team will discover a lot about what made life work in those early days. For me, part of the fascination is what the archeologists can discover with few clues. So cool that tooth enamel can show X or Y (male) genetics.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Great article Rebecca. I see that not only the art world must be revised to give women their rightful and proper place but also the history of archaeology. I have visited many sites in Europe and Turkey and I am waiting for this COVID crisis to pass to visit the site I’ve been thinking about for a long time which is Gobekle Tepe in Turkey, considered the oldest site. Lovely post Rebecca. All the best,

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comments and compliment, Francisco. I’m glad archeologists are becoming more aware of their preconceived ideas and collecting hard data to prove their hypotheses. I looked up the ancient temple site you mentioned in Turkey and it looks fantastic. I can see why you’d like to visit!

      Liked by 2 people

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