Women Were Prehistoric Hunters – Not Just Gatherers

Female Hunters in Pre-historic times. 

The concept that men developed as hunters and women as caregivers for children and domestic responsibilities stands as one of anthropology’s most influential notions. However the existing evidence contradicts this belief. Findings from studies in physiology archaeology and fossil records indicate that women have a substantial history of hunting animals for sustenance.
University of Delaware anthropology professor Sarah Lacy has proposed a new theory that challenges the familiar story that labor roles during ancient times were divided by sex and that men evolved to be hunters and women to be gatherers. Lacy and her colleague Cara Ocobock from the University of Notre Dame examined the division of labor according to sex during the Paleolithic era, approximately 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago. Through a review of current archaeological evidence and literature, they found little evidence to support the idea that roles were assigned specifically to each sex. The team also looked at female physiology and found that women were not only physically capable of being hunters, but that there is little evidence to support that they were not hunting. During the Paleolithic era, most people lived in small groups. To Lacy, the idea that only part of the group would hunt didn’t make sense.
In 2020, another team of scientists reported finding a 9,000-year-old female skeleton in the Andes Mountains, buried alongside tools for hunting and dressing big game. But when the remains were first uncovered, the presence of burial weapons led archaeologists to assume that the skeleton was male. Morphological analysis and DNA testing confirmed that the ancient hunter was female. But that initial misinterpretation — and its reversal — sparked questions.
Human survivorship cannot last with rigid gender roles,” she said. “In rapidly changing environments, especially in groups of humans that don’t have large populations, everybody has to be willing to lend a hand. And rigid taboos prevent that.”
Reference: “Woman the hunter: The archaeological evidence” by Sarah Lacy and Cara Ocobock, 4 September 2023, American Anthropologist.
DOI: 10.1111/aman.13914