Scientists Found the Ancient Remains of a Female Hunter, So Maybe Gender Roles Are BS After All

Illustration for article titled Scientists Found the Ancient Remains of a Female Hunter, So Maybe Gender Roles Are BS After All
Illustration: Matthew Verdolivo (UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services

For those lusting for things just to return to the “good old days,” when you could come home from a long day of swilling martinis in the office to a freshly cooked meatloaf and a subservient wife, I have bad news: Archaeologists have discovered the 9,000 year old remains of a woman in the Andes highlands who was buried with her “big-game hunting kit,” which means that slaying vicuñas wasn’t just a man’s job after all.

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In a new paper published in the journal Science Advances, researchers argue that the discovery of this woman and her hunting gear says something about how labor was divided in this particular place and time; specifically, that there was something akin to equal participation among the sexes.

“Our findings have made me rethink the most basic organizational structure of ancient hunter-gatherer groups, and human groups more generally,” Randall Haas, one of the study’s authors, said in a press release. “Among historic and contemporary hunter-gatherers, it is almost always the case that males are the hunters and females are the gatherers. Because of this—and likely because of sexist assumptions about division of labor in western society—archaeological findings of females with hunting tools just didn’t fit prevailing worldviews. It took a strong case to help us recognize that the archaeological pattern indicated actual female hunting behavior.”

Other anthropologists argue that assuming parity might be a stretch, but that nevertheless, the discovery of a female hunter at the very least raises some intriguing questions. Bonnie L. Pitblado, an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma, told the New York Times that the findings were “well-reasoned and an important idea for future testing,” adding that the study was “a really refreshing contribution.”

But the female hunter discovered in Peru is not the only one who has been unearthed. Haas examined 429 burials in the Americas from 14,000 to 8,000 years ago; of the 27 with big game hunting implements whose sex had been determined, 16 were male and 11 were female. He stresses that the results are not conclusive, but as women’s rights are being eroded, frankly any evidence is comforting.

DISCUSSION

It is remarkable how sexist assumptions (from the prevailing worldview at the time) have impacted some of our records. Evidence of gender parity and homosexuality has been misinterpreted in both animal and human historical research for ages, and we’re only beginning to unpack it now.