Women were hunters too


Slayers were the norm rather than the exception in many hunter-gatherer cultures. © PLOS/ Mohamed_hassan/ Pixabay, CC0

The roles in many hunter-gatherer cultures have been and are far less clearly defined than has long been assumed. A study of modern primitive peoples on every continent reveals that in 79 percent of these cultures women actively hunt. Instead of just working as mothers and gatherers, as is the cliché, the women of these peoples make a significant contribution to the meat supply of their tribe. This sheds new light on the distribution of roles in Stone Age hunter-gatherer cultures, the team reports.

It is the common cliché about the early division of labor among hunters and gatherers: while the men go hunting, the women take care of the children and at best contribute to the supply of the group by collecting fruit, roots or other plant food. This view of the life of our ancestors not only prevails among laypeople, it has also shaped the interpretation of archaeological finds for decades: if hunting or war weapons were found in a grave, archaeologists usually assumed that they were the remains of a man acted.

Searching for clues in 63 hunter-gatherer cultures

However, with the possibility of determining the sex of the dead based on their DNA, more and more cases have arisen in which this common picture no longer fits. "One of the most prominent examples is a 9,000-year-old tomb at Wilamaya Patjxa in the Andean highlands of Peru," report Abigail Anderson of Seattle Pacific University and her colleagues. "In this tomb lay a grown woman with hunting tools, including stone arrowheads and tools for processing the spoils of the hunt." In a recent study of 27 graves in the New World containing grave goods used for big game hunting, 11 dead turned out to be women.

These and other finds raise the question of how justified the common image of man as a hunter and woman as a gatherer really is. To examine this more closely, Anderson and her colleagues looked at contemporary hunter-gatherer cultures. For their study, they evaluated data on 63 indigenous peoples on different continents whose way of life and hunting behavior had been studied and documented over the past 100 years. "We specifically searched for information such as: 'The women went hunting' or 'The women killed animals' in order to exclude cases in which women only went hunting in order to carry home the prey killed by the men afterwards". , emphasize Anderson and her team.

Slayers in 79 percent of cultures

The analysis found that in 50 of the 63 hunter-gatherer cultures there was clear evidence that women hunted, which corresponds to 79 percent of the cultures examined. In the majority of these primitive peoples, women not only killed animals when they happened to come across them while collecting or doing other activities, but also went hunting, as the researchers determined. "In societies where hunting is considered the primary method of obtaining food, women participate 100 percent of the time," they report. Like the men, the women also hunted and killed large game.

"The abundance of data on hunting women contradicts the conventional wisdom that women only gather while only men hunt," Anderson and her colleagues explain. "The assumption of a gender-related division of labor among hunter-gatherers is therefore incorrect." Instead, the evaluated descriptions showed that women in many of these cultures even exhibited more versatile hunting strategies than men and that they also taught the younger members of the tribe their skills. According to Anderson and her team, this is another indication that previous assumptions about gender roles also need to be examined in archaeological finds.

Source: PLoSONE, doi: 0.1371/journal.pone.0287101

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