The men at work, the women at home? This “daddy” division of labor, transposed to prehistoric times, can be translated as: “men hunting, women gathering”. This was the dogma in force, about the sharing of tasks between the sexes in the hunter-gatherer populations of our ancestors. sapiens.
Monolithic and patriarchal vision, indeed. And much more false than we think. The study published on November 4 in the journal Science Advances As evidenced by this: to the surprise of the authors, at the University of California, a total of eleven women who actively hunted were identified in graves dating from around 9,000 years ago, scattered throughout the country. North and South America.
This revelation begins with the discovery, in 2018, of a tomb located in the highlands of present-day Peru, in the Andes, on the site of Wilamaya Patjxa. It contained the human remains of six individuals, two of whom were accompanied by hunting and skinning tools. The DNA of these skeletons being poorly preserved, the researchers used a subtle technique to determine the sex: they analyzed proteins, amelogenins, which make up 90% of the proteins in tooth enamel. Their gene (AMEL) is carried by both the X and Y chromosomes, with differences in sequence and size between the X and Y versions. Male teeth contain 90% of the X version and 10% of the Y version. , while those of females contain 100% of version X. An analysis supported by that of the morphology of the skeletons.
Verdict: One of these two skeletons was a female, around 18 years old. “The objects accompanying individuals to their graves were generally the same as those accompanying them in life”, assure the authors. They deduce that this young woman took an active part in the hunt. Hunting tools were throwing weapons with propellants, “Very efficient and precise in reaching the large game which is abundant in this region (taruca deer, vicuna, llama, alpaca)”, notes the paleoanthropologist Pascal Picq, lecturer at the Collège de France. Tools “That a woman can handle as well as a man ».
Up to 50% female hunters
Was this a special case, or a more widespread trend? By listing all the burial sites in America corresponding to this period (late Pleistocene and early Holocene), the authors found 107, containing 429 individual graves. Of these, 27 were buried with big game hunting tools: 11 women and 16 men. The evidence that the hunting activity of women, at that time, was far from anecdotal: 30% to 50% of hunters were female. A rate that contrasts starkly with the average rates observed in current populations of hunter-gatherers as in modern agricultural and Western societies, where less than 30% of hunters are women. So there have been, in history, hunter-gatherer societies.
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