Ancient 9,000-year-old discovery ‘fundamentally’ changes hunter-gatherer understanding

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Historians and scientists have agreed for centuries over the question of our early ancestors. They largely assigned men and women into two categories: the former as the hunters, the latter as the gatherers. This accepted “norm” was thrown completely on its head, however, when scientists working on a site in the Andean Mountains of South America came across the body of a 9,000-year-old female who appeared to be a big-game hunter.

The initial excavations began in 2018, at Wilamaya Payjxa, in what is now Peru, and uncovered an early burial site.

It was this site that contained a “hunting toolkit” made up of various weaponry and tools intended to process animal meat.

Normally, objects found around a buried person reflect that said person’s status and role in society.

Thus, researchers say it can be assumed that the body found was a hunter.

After further analysis of the body’s bones, James Watson, the team’s osteologist from the University of Arizona, determined that they belonged to a female.

Dental protein analysis carried out at the University of California, Davis, further confirmed this.

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The bombshell discovery has led researchers to revisit other records of discoveries from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene burials unearthed across North and South America.

They hope to determine whether this female hunter find is part of a much broader picture.

Furthermore, of the 429 burials they found, 27 individuals were linked to big-game hunting tools.

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Fifteen of these were male, while 11 were female.

The analysis identified the Wilamaya Patjxa female hunter as the earliest hunter burial ever found in the Americas.

Dr Randy Has, assistant professor of anthropology at UC Davis, is the lead author of the study.

He told BBC Science magazine: “We believe that these findings are particularly timely in light of contemporary conversations surrounding gendered labour practices and inequality.

“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’.

“But it’s not clear that sexual division of labour was fundamentally different – likely more equitable – in our species’ deep hunger-gatherer past.”

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