Archaeologists Find Remains That Suggest Gender Equality in Ancient Hunter‑Gatherer Societies


Nov 5, 2020


An artist's rendering of an ancient female hunter. (Image Credit: Matthew Verdolivo/Uc Davis IET)

A woman buried 9,000 years ago with spear points and hunting tools in the Andes Mountains, Peru, is the oldest-known female big-game hunter in the American continents.

Her newly discovered grave is one of several known burial sites of an ancient woman who hunted big game in the Americas, leading archaeologists to conclude nearly as many women as men hunted in the American continents — challenging the accepted narrative of male hunters and female gatherers.

“We believe that these findings are particularly timely in light of contemporary conversations surrounding gendered labor practices and inequality,” Randall Haas, assistant professor of anthropology and the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Labor 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.’ But it’s now clear that sexual division of labor was fundamentally different — likely more equitable — in our species’ deep hunter-gatherer past.”

This research was published in Sciences Advances.

Related on The Swaddle:

Hunter‑Gatherer Women Were Warriors, Not Just Nurturers, Say Scientists

The discovery of the Peruvian huntress led researchers to look for a broader pattern of female big-game hunters in late-Pleistocene and early-Holocene burial sites throughout North and South America. Among the 429 individuals spread out in 107 burial sites, 27 were big-game hunters. Within this limited number, 11 were female and 15 were male. The study says, “[This sample warrants] the conclusion that female participation in early big-game hunting was likely nontrivial.” Their statistical analysis shows that 30 to 50% of hunters were women.

This research adds to previous analysis of ancient hunter-gatherer women from North America and Asia that concluded women from hunter-gatherer tribes also engaged in combat. From the recent spate of discoveries, one can conclude that the evolution of gendered labor roles is far more modern than simply originating from the dawn of time.


Written By Aditi Murti

Aditi Murti is a culture writer at The Swaddle. Previously, she worked as a freelance journalist focused on gender and cities. Find her on social media @aditimurti.


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