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2024-05-26 11:33:58   •   ID: 2381

Men the Hunter or Gender Equality?

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Figures 1-4: These are possible projectile points from the IUP (Carmel Region / Israel), the EUP (Ahmarian from Kebara / Israel), the Gravettian (Flechette from Fourneau du Diable), the "Willendorf-Kostenkian" (Morvavany in W-Slovakia) and the Solutrean (Shouldered point from Fourneau de Diable) -all from my personal Collection.

The "Men the Hunter" hypothesis, named after an influential symposium in Chicago in 1966,- see: 1261 held that throughout human evolution, men hunted and women gathered - and that they rarely switched these gender roles.

Some, particularly female researchers (e.g. Linda Owen, Olga Soffer), challenged this notion early on, but for a long time there was only scant evidence for hunting women.

Of course the "Men the Hunter" hypothesis is older than the mentioned conference.

For a long time, the Western countries' model for the division of labor, which was essentially based on the idea that men were "naturally" best suited to hard physical labor, was uncritically applied to prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

In fact, the anatomy of men is usually stronger than that of a woman.

But in addition to pure strength, other factors in successful hunting, such as patience, endurance, individual skills and the ability for long-distance running play an important role.

There is growing evidence that women are physiologically better suited to endurance events such as long distance running than men. This advantage has some implications for hunting, as one well-known hypothesis is that early humans pursued their prey on foot over long distances until the animals were exhausted (Lacy and Ocobock 2023).

The cumulative ethnographic record seems to be clear: In a recently published analysis on published data of 63 different foraging societies on different continents, 50 (79%) of them had documentation on women hunting.

Of the remaining 50 societies, 41 had sufficient data on whether women’s hunting was intentional or opportunistic.

36 (87%) of the foraging societies described women’s hunting as intentional, while only 5 (12%) societies assumed woman’s hunting as opportunistic. This record is in clear contradiction to what is commonly thought (Anderson et al. 2023).

A recent meta-analysis looked at the published records of burials from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene across the Americas, using data where sufficient information on division of labour was available (Lacy and Ocobock 2023).

The circumstances of 429 individuals from 107 sites were analyzed. 27 individuals could be linked to big game hunting tools -, mainly projectile-points-, 11 individuals were female and 15 male. The sample was sufficient to justify the conclusion that women's involvement in early big-game hunting was likely "non-trivial," the researchers finally stated.

However, the discovery of projectile points in graves does not automatically mean that the equipment was used by the buried person, so some uncertainty still remains. There could be some bias in the data.

Ideally, the association of projectiles with an individual of unequivocal female sex (anatomical and if possible determined by DNA) in a grave is not always the proof of a femal hunter.

Burial-associated projectile points can result from homicide, hunting accident, or stratigraphic mixing.

Therefore excavation techniques have to demonstrate the integrity of the site and have to exclude that the individual had been killed by the projectiles that were found.

Happily, and as a proof of principle, in 2018 a burial of an femal individual was excavated in the Andes Mountains of Peru (9 k.a. Cal. BP). The body had been buried with an extensive kit of stone tools and the stratigraphic integrity of the grave was beyond any doubt.

The toolkit found in the burial, according to the report, was most possibly once stored in a perishable container such as a leather bag, and included projectile points and other tools that may have served for scraping and cutting together with nodules of red ocher maybe used to preserve hides (Haas et al. 2020).

Why am I focusing on this excavation in particular?

After more than 150 years of research, the possibilities of finding new, untouched Palaeolithic graves in Europe have probably been largely exhausted.

Future research using more sophisticated techniques will certainly take place on other continents and will probably be able to confirm or reject the hypothesis of Gender equality in hunting strategies during the Stone Age.

Suggested Reading:

Cirotteau;T et al. Lady Sapiens: Breaking Stereotypes About Prehistoric Women; Hero (2023).

Devore; I (Ed.), Lee, RB (Ed.) Man the Hunter; Aldine Pub (1968).