Women warriors hunted and slaughtered big game in the Andes some 9,000 years ago, a burial site containing projectile points and butchery tools has revealed.
The remains of the 17–19 year old hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru.
She was found with tools including stone projectile points for felling large animals, a knife, and implements for gutting an animal and scraping or tanning hides.
It had long been assumed that — among early human hunter-gatherer societies — it was the men who did the former while the women undertook the latter task.
However, the find — along with an analysis of early burial practices more broadly — 'overturns the long-held "man-the-hunter" hypothesis', the US researchers said.
It is possible that nine millennia ago the hunters of Wilamaya Patjxa may have hunted vicuña — animals related to llamas and camels — which still roam the Andes today.
Women warriors hunted and slaughtered big game in the Andes some 9,000 years ago, as depicted, a burial site containing projectile points and butchery tools has revealed
'We believe that these findings are particularly timely in light of contemporary conversations surrounding gendered labour practices and inequality,' said paper author and anthropologist Randy Haas of the the University of California, Davis.
'Labour practices among recent hunter-gatherer societies are highly gendered, which might lead some to believe that sexist inequalities in things like pay or rank are somehow "natural" ', he commented.
'But it's now clear that sexual division of labour was fundamentally different — likely more equitable — in our species' deep hunter-gatherer past.'
Professor Haas and colleagues — with in collaboration with the local Mulla Fasiri community — discovered the warrior woman's burial, complete with its hunting 'toolkit' — during excavations at Wilamaya Patjxa back in 2018.
The researchers noted that the objects that accompanying people to their graves in death tend to also be those that they made use of in life.
The team determined that the hunter's remains were likely those of a woman based on the structure of the bones — a conclusion that was later validated by analysing the proteins found in samples of the individual's teeth.
Analysis of the woman's bones also found isotopic evidence of meat consumption, which the researchers said supports the conclusion that she was a hunter.
The team also found another hunter's burial site — this one occupied by the remains of a man — believed to be around 25–30 years of age.
'Our findings have made me rethink the most basic organizational structure of ancient hunter-gatherer groups,' Professor Haas said.
“Among historic and contemporary hunter-gatherers, it is almost always the case that males are the hunters and females are the gatherers.
'Because of this – and likely because of sexist assumptions about division of labour in western society – archaeological findings of females with hunting tools just didn't fit