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7 January 2021
Remains of female hunter challenge ancient gender roles

The remains of a female hunter were found in 2018 during archaeological excavations at a high-altitude site called Wilamaya Patjxa in Peru. The young woman who lived around 9,000 years ago  was buried alongside "a well-stocked, big-game hunting toolkit" including "stone projectile points for felling large animals, a knife and flakes of rock for removing internal organs, and tools for scraping and tanning hides".
     Her sex was confirmed by protein analysis of dental remnants, and her bones suggest she may have been between 17 to 19 years old at the time of her death.
     The researchers then looked at archaeological records of 429 other burials throughout North and South America from about 14,000 to 8,000 years ago. They found evidence of 27 individuals buried with big-game hunting tools * 11 female and 16 male. Based on their findings, the team suggests that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of big-game hunters who lived more than 10,000 years ago in the Americas may have been women.
     Dr Randy Haas, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, and lead author on the study says it is well-established that in most contemporary and recent societies of hunter gatherers hunting is predominantly done by males, and archaeological evidence has tended to support the conclusion that past gender roles were similar. On occasion, female remains have been associated with materials that suggested that they were hunters but the examples have been treated as outliers, however in Dr Haas' opinion "It's now clear that sexual division of labour was fundamentally different - likely more equitable - in our species' deep hunter-gatherer past."

Edited from BBC Science Focus, The New York Times (5 November 2020)

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