Newly Discovered Remains Reveal 9,000-Year-Old Big-Game Hunting Female

by Jon D. B.

Meet the 9,000-year-old hunting female who’s busting the myth that only our male ancestors hunted, and the females gathered.

Leave it to an incredible foremother to teach us what we should’ve known all along. The discovery of a 9,000-year-old woman with a “big-game hunting kit” is forcing archaeologists and anthropologists alike to rethink human history at large. In short, science is proving what women have known all along: it wasn’t just the males out hunting, and the females gathering.

This Wednesday, a fascinating paper for the Science Advances journal, archaeologist Robert Haas and his colleagues conclude that this newly discovered female was indeed hunting big game. Haas notes that alongside the Native South American woman’s remains were multiple hunting tools, comprising what the paper calls the “big-game hunting kit.” In her lifetime, she would’ve been harvesting deer and vicuña – an alpaca-esque species of hooved game – alongside her male counterparts.

The paper notes that while the discovery of a hunting female is unusual, it is not unprecedented. As a result, Dr. Haas and his team reach the broader claim that women were actively hunting in the ancient Americas.

“Early females in the Americas were big-game hunters,” Haas concludes. He argues that their additional findings point to “equal participation” between sexes in the hunt. Fellow archaeologists, however, find the statement a bit hasty.

“Early females in the Americas were big game hunters”

One such scientist is Dr. Robert L. Kelly of the University of Wyoming. The anthropologist has studied ancient hunter-gatherers extensively. To him, this simply proves that this single female was a hunter. The paper’s claim that “the prevalence of male-female hunters was near parity,” doesn’t sway him to see hunting females as a commonality. He cites the small sample of female graves to substantiate his belief.

To University of Oklahoma anthropologist Bonnie L. Pitblado, however, the findings are “well-reasoned and an important idea for future testing.” She calls the study “a really refreshing contribution” to early female settlers of the Americas. Male bias within the scientific community is prevalent and pervasive, and Dr. Pitblado’s open mind may lead to further research that solidifies Dr. Haas’ findings.

While Haas does note that the majority of hunting ancestors were male, he too is keeping an open mind. Within his paper, he points to multiple, previous female remains as being associated with hunting materials – but each has always been treated as an “outlier.” “What if they weren’t,” Haas suggests. “What if the overall view of hunting should be adjusted?”

Peru’s 9,000-Year-Old Hunting Female Breaks The Mold

A festival of indigenous Katschiri in South America, Woodcut from 1892. (Photo by: Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Dr. Haas and his team’s discovery comes from a site known as Wilamaya Patjxa. Here, in Southern Peru, the remains were unearthed at a staggering altitude of over 12,000 feet. Artifacts were first noted in the Puno district by Haas’ collaborator, A. Pilco Quispe. Quispe has been finding human artifacts in the district for the past decade. Their hunting female is among five burials their team found.

In addition to her own hunting kit, over 20,000 artifacts have been cataloged to support Haas’ claim within the district. Together, the archaeologists found weapons, projectile points, and scant human remains. Eventually, this led to their skeleton. “Oh, he must have been a great chief. he was a great hunter,” Haas speculated.

Only to find out their celebrated “chief” was indeed – female. Now known as WMP6, the hunter died at around 18 years of age. Identifying her as female were lighter bones and the study of proteins in her dental enamel. This fascinating technique is newer among sex-identifying methods and proves highly accurate for anthropologists.

Previous Evidence Substantiates Haas’ Claims, But Not Without Resistance

Moreover, Dr. Haas notes that he looked to an impressive 429 burials within the Americas that fit WMP6’s same timeframe. Of these 429, 27 were found with big game hunting artifacts. 16 were male – but a surprising 11, however, were female.

Citing this, alongside his teams’ recent findings, Haas has come to the conclusion that hunting females were among 30, to 50% of hunters in ancient American societies.

Dr. Kelly remains skeptical of Haas’ findings as a result of these numbers. He warns fellow scientists against reading too far into burials. “The interpretation of grave goods, as a cultural, symbolic act, is not simple or straightforward,” Kelly notes. “If we accept WMP6 as the only [adult] female hunter in the sample, then it suggests the most likely prevalence of female hunters is 10 percent. I would not be surprised at that.”

One thing, however, is certain. Modern science will have to ditch the notion that only our male ancestors were hunting. And in a time when hunting is surging in popularity for women, this should come as no surprise to the modern “hunting female”.

[H/T Science Advances]