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Discovery of 9,000-Year-Old Female Hunter in Peru Is Rewriting History

Discovery of 9,000-Year-Old Female Hunter in Peru Is Rewriting History

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A grave in Peru has been shown to contain the world’s oldest female hunter. This news is potentially explosive. It may change our understanding of gender relations in the ancient Americas and even the nature of prehistoric societies. Randy Hass, an anthropologist from the University of California, was working with his colleagues at a high-altitude site in an area known as Wilamaya Patjxa, in southern Peru, when they found six burials, dating back almost 9,000 years, which contained the remains of six individuals. During their work the team collaborated with the local Aymara community.

Teenage Female Huntress Buried with Her Tools

One burial pit was not like the others. Based on the hunting toolkit found with the deceased, the team initially thought that the burial was of a male hunter. However, the bones were very slender, light and appeared to be those of a female. Science quotes one of the team members, bio-archaeologist Jim Watson, as saying “I think your hunter might be female.” Indeed, the grave contained the remains of a young woman who died between the ages of 17 and 19. Her gender and age were determined based on an analysis of proteins in her teeth.

Artists depiction of female hunter 9,000 years ago in ancient Peru. Source: Matthew Verdolivo / UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services

Artists depiction of female hunter 9,000 years ago in ancient Peru. Source: Matthew Verdolivo / UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services

Anthropologist Randy Haas told Sky News that the female hunter had been buried with “stone projectile points for felling large animals, a knife and flakes of rock for removing internal organs, and tools for scraping and tanning hides.” The stone points would have been attached to shafts and used as spear throwers and hurled at animals with great force. A pigment chunk was also found with her which was used in the treatment of hides.

The teenage female hunter was discovered with a hunting toolkit at the Wilamaya Patjxa in southern Peru. (Randall Haas / University of California, Davis)

The teenage female hunter was discovered with a hunting toolkit at the Wilamaya Patjxa in southern Peru. (Randall Haas / University of California, Davis )

Was the Discovery an Outlier?

The female hunter was found near the grave of a male who was also buried with a hunting toolkit. The team of researchers also found evidence of animal bones in the sediment of the burial ground, including Andean deer and vicuña. Haas told Science News that these two animals “were the main targets of ancient hunters in that part of the Andes.”

However, many believed that the find was a once-off and that the female big-game hunter was an outlier. Science quotes Meg Conkey, an archaeologist who did not take part in the study, as stating that “skeptics might say it’s a one-off.” Moreover, the presence of hunting gear in a grave does not necessarily mean that the deceased was a hunter. Haas and his team set out to prove that there had once been other female hunters in the Americas.

Tracking Down Female Hunters in the Americas

Haas and his colleagues were prepared for this and conducted an exhaustive study of the research literature on 107 burial sites in the Americas. All of these sites are between 6,000 and 12,500 years old. In total, the researchers found ten women who had been buried with hunting toolkits. Their research has led them to conclude that women routinely participated in big game hunts. The researchers wrote in Science Advances that “the findings are consistent with nongendered labor practices in which early hunter-gatherer females were big-game hunters.”

Based on their study of other sites, the research team believes that “females accounted for between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of ancient American big-game hunters,” reports Science News . They are convinced that the evidence is strong for their theory. The researchers also consider that archaeologists did not recognize that females were big-game hunters in the past because of sexism.

Excavations at Wilamaya Patjxa in Peru, where the female hunter burial was found. (Randall Haas / University of California, Davis)

Excavations at Wilamaya Patjxa in Peru, where the female hunter burial was found. (Randall Haas / University of California, Davis )

Gender Equality Among Hunters

Gizmodo quotes the researchers as saying that “modern gender constructs often do not reflect past ones.” In other words, just because women in the recent past were not big-game hunters this does not means that there weren’t any female big-game hunters in the Americas 9,000 years ago. Up until recently, the “man the hunter hypothesis” was widely accepted, according to Science. This held that women did “women’s work” and that males engaged in activities such as hunting and as a result were the dominant gender. This was based in part on modern studies of hunter-gather groups such as the Hazda of Tanzania.

Inspired by their groundbreaking discovery in Peru, the researchers argue this was not the case. Big-game hunting would have required team work, a group of people working together and a great deal of labor. Therefore, women would have had to cooperate with men to ensure success in hunting expeditions. Quoted in Gizmodo, the researchers argue that there was “broad participation from both females and males” in the hunting of big game.

Women Warriors Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Ashley Smallwood of the University of Louisville in Kentucky told Science News that “it is time to stop thinking of [ancient] female large-game hunters as outliers.” The discovery of the ancient female huntress in Peru could transform our knowledge of gender roles in the past. If women hunted this would imply that there was more equality between the genders in prehistoric societies.

However, some have argued against these findings and state that the researchers cannot prove their arguments about female hunters because the sample that they investigated is simply too small. However, the research is aligned with recent discoveries that challenge the traditional assumptions about gender roles in prehistory. Archaeologists have found evidence of a 5,000-year-old female warrior in California, while other finds suggest that there were female fighters in both Mongolian and Viking societies in the distant past.

Top image: Researchers have found remains of a female hunter from 9,000 years ago in ancient Peru. Source: beltsazar / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

Comments

Donald Campbell's picture

Warwick, is a "site" a single grave or the location of where one or more people were buried?

I took this Peruvian site to be all six of the burials there. In that definition, the ten women become a fractional part of the overall 107 sites, and even 10% is too generous an estimate.

In either case, the "estimate" of 50% has a lot more to do with the modern narrative of gender equality and little to do with critical thinking. 

Warwick Lewis's picture

The researchers studied 107 ancient burials and found 10 that contained females with hunting implement...this then concluded with an estimate of between 30% and 50% of big game hunters being women ???

Sorry but when the basic maths don't add up I have to consider the whole article to be dishonest.

Finding hunting tools doesn't necessarily indicate she was a hunter.
Some other suggested possibilities.
The tools could have been ceremonial.
She may have been a tool maker.
Or they could represent a dowry.

WarwickLewis

Caesar A. Mendez's picture

This 9 thousand year old  grave discovery is certainly surprising but not unusual. As stated in at the end of this article it’s well documented of female warriors in a male dominated martial culture such as in Scandinavian & Mongolian societies. And female warriors were wide spread in the Scythian culture.  So an occational female hunter in a hunter-gatherer society may not cause an radical view of these cultures. It maybe more surprising to find more graves of this type. Oh, I just remembered that in Greek mythology the Deity of the Hunt is a female; Artemis. 

Hi Ed,

This was exciting to read about the 9000 year old Female Huntress found in Peru. Thank you for sharing. However I'm not surprise by the skepticism surrounding whether are not Female Hunters existed.

What was it that was said when Woman Hunter was found?That just because Hunting Tool kit is found nearby with the Female Hunter doesn't mean she was hunting.

I just watched on PBS INDEPENDENT short documentary about a Tribe of People in Alaska that hunts Caribou, Moose, Fish, and Seals and in the short Documentary I watched Jewel Story.

Jewel is the youngest of three siblings two happily were away at College; so it's been just her and Father she is The Baby sixteen years old.

It was Jewel and her father who went out to hunt Moose.
It was her father that reminded her of the rules when hunting moose because when she and her father cane across a Cow Moose He told her No the Cow moose could give birth anywhere to four to five Calves insuring another generation of Moose to eat so don't kill the Female Moose.

What stood out to me in the documentary is that Jewel killed her first Bull Moose back in 2015 her father has it on Film.

Normally I'm against the idea of hunting animals for sport or to kill and animal just to kill it like some cruel person did to an Alligator.

The man just killed the alligator to Kill it as a trophy not for food.

All the alligator did was sunbath in its natural environment.

The gator wasn't attacking him, charging at him, or eating his child; the alligator left him alone and his boat mate, and he himself said he'd watch it sunbath and noticed how big it was and that's when he decided to kill it because it was so big so it was and unjustified killing.

By the way God did say if and animal not being provoked attempts to or succeeds in killing a human being then yes that animal was to be Executed.

That was the only time God said kill the animal but in the case of the gator killer that animal wasn't doing anything to anybody but being an Alligator.

Going back to Jewel In the case of how Jewel, her father and People hunted whether it be Caribou or Moose they simply hunted them for food that doesn't bother me they use all of the animal that was killed and share it with the Community as a whole.

Jewel did eventually get her Bull Moose also they touched on how the climate was changing in that environment in Alaska so it has been getting harder to find Caribou these day's.

The point of me sharing about Jewel is that her people have hunted Moose for centuries and apparently from her father's own admission her mother and mothers before them would go out to hunt because it was all about providing for the Community as a whole.

It's been proven much of human culture hasn't changed all that much in Ancient History and that's proven more so by the First People that were here in the Americas; before Columbus and The Spanish Conquistadors, how each one Indigenous Tribe defined their culture and history.

Which is still being repeated today.

Instead of skeptics quickly dismissing something because it erodes their belief of the Super male hunter gatherer concept, just step back look around you at that geographic location of people and see how they've live from Yesterday to Today.

That's what I've learned from watching Jewels Story filmed in Alaska.

There's another point that I remember, I still watch re-runs of
Unsolved Mysteries even on ytube when the series was hosted by Robert Stack, I recall one of the episodes involving an anthropologist she and her team were excited because they discovered a mass grave site that only had the bones of Women in them.

The Burial site was located somewhere in Russia. The anthropologist that made the discovery felt that these Women may have been apart of the Ancient Amazon Women.

She did mention the arrowheads that were found from the condition of the skeleton that women may have been in a battle, because some women had arrows stuck into an angle where it pierced them in the breast and in the heart, there were swords found too.

It's not definitive proof that they're the legendary Amazon's Unsolved Mysteries did point that out but it does change the narrative that only Men went to War these Women and young girls were keen warriors as well and possibly fought along the side of those same Men.

The trouble with that Theory only Women was found in the grave site not men and that's why the Anthropologist felt they might be the legendary Amazon's.

This was a fun topic to discuss Ed thank you for sharing and so until next time around Goodbye!

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