#Fossil of 9,000 Years Old Female Hunter Challenge Misguided Assumptions Around Gender Roles in Early Humans


(📸: Matthew Verdolivo, UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services)
Historical evidence suggests that almost all early humans were hunters and gatherers thousands of years ago before we gradually transformed into agricultural societies.
Now, an unexpected new discovery is set to turn this age-old belief on its head! Newly discovered fossil of a 9,000 years old female hunter from a burial site in the Andes Mountains of South America has intrigued researchers and has made them challenge pre-existing belief.
Challenging the prehistoric gender roles

So far, many experts believed that when early humans wanted food, men went hunting, and women gathered food through foraging or took care of children.
However, some scholars have advocated for decades now that the early hunter-gatherer society may not have followed these “traditional” roles—unlike the hunter-gatherer societies of the 19th century.
In the past, a number of studies had excavated hunting tools buried with biological females. In most of these cases, the conclusion, however, was not definitive—while sex was not confirmed in some cases, the burying of stone tools and remains were questioned in others.
During one of the archaeological excavations in 2018, researchers found an early burial with a hunting toolkit that had 24 stone tools—tools for animal processing, projectile points, hefty rocks, tiny flakes with very sharp edges.
Objects that are with people in their death are the items that would have been the most important to them during their lifetime. When the tools were found, even researchers had zero ideas about what they were going to uncover.

(Image credit: Randy Haas/UC Davis)
The discovery forced researchers to question if this early female hunter belonged to a broader group of females that were involved in hunting or was a sole cause.
Hence they further looked at published records of late Pleistocene and early Holocene burials throughout North and South America.
The team found 429 individuals belonging to 107 sites—out of which 27 individuals could be related to big-game hunting tools. They discovered that out of those 27 individuals 15 were male and 11 were female.
According to the researchers, this was enough sample to conclude that “female participation in early big-game hunting was likely nontrivial".
The researchers also show that the Wilamaya Patjxa female hunter was the earliest hunter buried in the Americas—North and South America. Statistical analysis shows that the female ratio in the early hunter populations was between 30 to 50 per cent.
This shows a sharp disparity when compared to the recent hunter-gatherer’s ratio. The scenario is the same in farming and capitalist societies as well, where hunting activity is primarily associated with males and female engagement is well under 30 per cent.
This research highlights our skewed understanding of the gender division of labour in early human societies. Randy Haas says that the findings of this study are perfectly timed in a world that is having serious discussions about gender inequality and labour practices.
The misguided belief about historical gender roles often leads to false perceptions around gender-based work, pay or rank that claim that such roles are ‘natural’ and not human-made.

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