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

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

 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 prevailing worldviews.’

‘It took a strong case to help us recognize that the archaeological pattern indicated actual female hunting behaviour.’

The remains of the hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru, pictured

The remains of the hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru, pictured

The remains of the hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru, pictured

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. Pictured, the tools unearthed from the burial pit, among which are projectile points (Nos. 1–7), unmodified flakes (8–10), retouched flakes (11–13), a possible backed knife (14), thumbnail scrapers (15 & 16), scrapers/choppers (17–19), burnishing stones (17, 20 & 21), and red ochre nodules (22–24)

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. Pictured, the tools unearthed from the burial pit, among which are projectile points (Nos. 1–7), unmodified flakes (8–10), retouched flakes (11–13), a possible backed knife (14), thumbnail scrapers (15 & 16), scrapers/choppers (17–19), burnishing stones (17, 20 & 21), and red ochre nodules (22–24)

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. Pictured, the tools unearthed from the burial pit, among which are projectile points (Nos. 1–7), unmodified flakes (8–10), retouched flakes (11–13), a possible backed knife (14), thumbnail scrapers (15 & 16), scrapers/choppers (17–19), burnishing stones (17, 20 & 21), and red ochre nodules (22–24)

The unexpected discovery of that one of the hunters’ graves belonged to a woman prompted the team to investigate whether this case was a one-off — or whether women warriors were actually more common than was initially thought.

Consulting records of similar late Pleistocene and early Holocene burials that had been excavated across both North and South America, the researchers counted 429 individuals that had been laid to rest across 107 different sites.

Of this people, 27 had been buried alongside big-game hunting tools — with 11 being women and 15 men.

It is possible that nine millennia ago the hunters of Wilamaya Patjxa may have hunted vicuña (pictured) — animals related to llamas and camels — which still roam the Andes today

It is possible that nine millennia ago the hunters of Wilamaya Patjxa may have hunted vicuña (pictured) — animals related to llamas and camels — which still roam the Andes today

It is possible that nine millennia ago the hunters of Wilamaya Patjxa may have hunted vicuña (pictured) — animals related to llamas and camels — which still roam the Andes today

The find — along with an analysis of early burial practices more broadly — 'overturns the long-held "man-the-hunter" hypothesis', the US researchers said. Pictured, the Wilamaya Patjxa site

The find — along with an analysis of early burial practices more broadly — 'overturns the long-held "man-the-hunter" hypothesis', the US researchers said. Pictured, the Wilamaya Patjxa site

The find — along with an analysis of early burial practices more broadly — ‘overturns the long-held “man-the-hunter” hypothesis’, the US researchers said. Pictured, the Wilamaya Patjxa site

This sample, the researchers concluded, is sufficient to ‘warrant the conclusion that female participation in early big-game hunting was likely non-trivial.’

Statistical analysis of the record of ancient hunter gathers concluded that between 30–50 per cent of hunters in these populations were women — a result in stark contrast to the same figures for recent hunter gathers, which are typically lower.

Even in agricultural and capitalist societies, hunting is usually a male-dominated activity with low levels of participation from women.

The researcher’s review also revealed that the woman buried at Wilamaya Patjxa represents the earliest-known hunter burial in the Americas.

'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. Pictured, researchers sift for remains at the Wilamaya Patjxa excavation site in the Andes

'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. Pictured, researchers sift for remains at the Wilamaya Patjxa excavation site in the Andes

‘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. Pictured, researchers sift for remains at the Wilamaya Patjxa excavation site in the Andes

According to the researchers, their findings may shine light on the division of labour in early human societies — but such also raises new questions that need answers.

With their initial study complete, the team are now looking to explore how the sexual division of labour — and the consequences of such — varied across the early hunter-gatherer populations of the Americas, and how it changed with time.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

The remains of the hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru

The remains of the hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru

The remains of the hunter and her artefacts were found in a grave at the high-altitude archaeological site of Wilamaya Patjxa, in what is today Peru

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