The discovery of a 9,000-year-old female skeleton buried with what archaeologists call a "big-game hunting kit" in the Andes highlands of Peru has challenged one of the most widely held tenets about ancient hunter gatherers — that males hunted and females gathered.
Randy Haas, an archaeologist at the University of California, Davis, and a group of colleagues concluded in a paper published in the journal Science Advances that this young woman was a big-game hunter, who participated in the pursuit of the vicuña and deer that made up a significant portion of their diet.
Haas and his colleagues argue that additional research shows something close to equal participation in hunting for both sexes. In general, they conclude, "early females in the Americas were big-game hunters."
Other scientists found the claim that the remains were those of a female hunter convincing, but questioned whether enough data exist to support the broader conclusion.
The grave of the young female was found at a site called Wilamaya Patjxa in the Puno district of southern Peru. She now goes by the scientific identifier WMP6 and is believed to have been 17 to 19 years old.
Haas then looked at 429 burials in the Americas from about 14,000 to 8,000 years ago and identified 27 individuals who were found with big-game hunting implements. Eleven were determined to be female. He and his authors acknowledged that the data are not conclusive, but they said that the preponderance of the evidence leads to the conclusion that females were about 30% to 50% of the big-game hunters.