Hunter-gatherer societies may have looked a little different than we thought, study shows
Burial sites offer evidence that women were not just gatherers, but were skilled hunters, as well
Recent excavation of ancient burial sites suggests women played a bigger role in prehistoric big-game hunting in the Americas than scientists previously assumed, according to scientific journal Plos One.
To gain insights into ancient foraging societies, an international research team conducted a study of 391 foraging societies spanning from the early 1800s to the present day.
One significant discovery Plos One examined was a 9,000-year old burial site in the Andean highland area of Wilamaya Patjxa, Peru. Scientists discovered the remains of 11 females at 10 different sites containing “big-game hunting tools” and “animal processing equipment.”
Another instance of women acting as hunters in early societies was confirmed through genetic analysis in 2017. In 1871, a “lavish” burial site of an ancient Viking warrior was discovered on an island in Sweden, per Atlas Obscura. The site included two sacrificed horses, hosts of weapons and a shield. The remains were originally thought to belong to a man, but the warrior was later confirmed to be female.
More evidence for female hunters appeared when archaeologists found a 2,500-year-old burial site with “four females alongside weapons and warrior equipment,” per Plos One. The buried women’s ages ranged from 12 to 50 and they were allegedly nomadic Scythians. One-third of Scythian women “were buried with weapons.”
By analyzing these discoveries and current hunter-gatherer societies, researchers concluded that women hunted in 79% of foraging societies. Smithsonian magazine reported that nearly two-thirds of the time, female hunting didn’t occur while doing other activities; it seemed intentional.
In societies where families relied heavily on hunting for survival, “women participated in hunting 100 percent of the time,” Smithsonian magazine reported.
Plos One concluded that these burial sites suggest scientists may know less about how Holocene societies were organized than they previously thought. Their hypothesis is that “the majority ... of hunter-gatherer communities do expect females to contribute to hunting strategies.”
If women being buried with weapons implies they were commonly involved in hunting, it would “challenge the long-held perceptions of sex-specific gender roles within foraging subsistence labor.”