In the dry sandy heat of Peru, a dashing archaeologist uncovers an amazing discovery hidden deep under the dust of a long forgotten village. There lies the grave of an important figure, a strong leader that lived here long ago. The 9000-year-old human skeleton lays there surrounded by a vast arsenal of weapons and hunting tools. It is very clear that they were buried with high honor and care, protecting their legacy with this dedicated shrine. They must have been a great chief, a warrior, a protector of their people. They must have been an alpha hunter providing their tribe with a wealth of large game, providing their family with fresh and nutritious meat. They must have been what every hunter has ever been, a man.
Turns out it was a woman.
This story of men as hunters and women as gatherers has been persistent for much of modern scientific history. Men love meat, men are strong, men love to kill things and provide for their families. Women like plants, women are nurturing, they have babies and stay home to take care of the children. Turns out all of it was just an extension of the male dominant field of archeologists simply extending the prevailing narrative at the time.
Most of the evidence for these findings came from anecdotal stories and observations of existing aboriginal tribes. There were also books published in the 1960’s and 80’s called ‘Man the Hunter’ and it’s hit sequel ‘Woman the Gatherer.’ There weren’t any systematic tallies of what actually went on. In other words, they reported only on what they wanted to see. Also, unsurprisingly, most archaeologists and anthropologists at the time were male, a gap that didn’t start to close until the early 2000’s. I’m willing to bet you also pictured a man digging in the sand uncovering the female warrior in the strapping image of Indiana Jones or a wise bearded man like Charles Darwin.
A new study by a female anthropologist, Cara Wall-Scheffler, took a look back at previous evidence in a more systematic way. She did the tally. Turns out many graves with women and weapons were simply dismissed since it didn’t fit the narrative. Women in many societies were also taught to build and wield weapons and hunt large game, when the old story was that they only hunted ‘opportunistically’ when some small animal happened to cross…