, an archaeologist at University of California, Davis, recalls the moment in 2018 when his team of researchers gathered around the excavated burial of an individual lain to rest in the Andes Mountains of Peru some 9,000 years ago. Along with the bones of what appeared to be a human adult was an impressive—and extensive—kit of stone tools an ancient hunter would need to take down big game, from engaging the hunt to preparing the hide.
“He must have been a really great hunter, a really important person in society"—Haas says that’s what he and his team were thinking at the time.
But further analysis revealed a surprise: the remains found alongside the toolkit were from a biological female. What’s more, this ancient female hunter was likely not an anomaly, according to a study published today
in Science Advances.
The Haas team’s find was followed by a review of previously studied burials of similar age throughout the Americas—and it revealed that between 30 and 50 percent of big game hunters could have been biologically female.
Naturally, the findings have been questioned because we can’t have prehistoric ladies challenging gender norms now could we that just wouldn’t be right.
ASU’s Hill says he’s not yet fully convinced that the female individual buried 9,000 years ago was actually a hunter in life. Burial goods, including hunting tools, could have been placed there because of symbolic or religious beliefs, he cautions.
For GFPs experiencing a strong sense of deja vu, that’s because the exact same thing happened when a Viking warrior previously presumed to be male, was, on DNA analysis, found to be female. From Invisible Women:
For over a hundred years, a tenth-century Viking skeleton known as the ‘Birka warrior’ had – despite possessing an apparently female pelvis – been assumed to be male because it was buried alongside a full set of weapons and two sacrificed horses. These grave contents indicated that the occupant had been a warrior – and warrior meant male (archaeologists put the numerous references to female fighters in Viking lore down to ‘mythical embellishments’). But although weapons apparently trump the pelvis when it comes to sex, they don’t trump DNA and in 2017 testing confirmed that these bones did indeed belong to a woman.
The argument didn’t, however, end there. It just shifted. The bones might have been mixed up; there might be other reasons a female body was buried with these items. Naysaying scholars might have a point on both counts (although based on the layout of the grave contents the original authors dismiss these criticisms). But the resistance is nevertheless revealing, particularly since male skeletons in similar circumstances ‘are not questioned in the same way’.