Ancient women hunted big game too

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Early American Women Hunted Game / View Guide

Directions for teachers: After your students read the online Science News article “Female big-game hunters may have been surprisingly common in the ancient Americas,” ask them to answer the following questions. A version of the story, “Early American women hunted game,” can be found in the December 5, 2020 issue of Science News.

1. What new information did researchers uncover in the Andes Mountains of Peru?

Researchers found the remains of an ancient woman buried with spearpoints and other hunting tools.

2. Why is this discovery notable?

The woman was buried about 9,000 years ago, which makes her the oldest known female big-game hunter in the Americas.

3. What conclusion do the researchers make based on this and other discoveries?

In ancient American hunter-gatherer societies, nearly as many females as males hunted large animals.

4. After the recent discovery, what additional evidence was used to create the researchers’ conclusion? Explain.

The researchers reviewed evidence from 429 people buried at 107 ancient sites throughout the Americas. Of 27 people who were buried with hunting tools and whose sex was known, 11 were women and 16 were men. Based on that small dataset, researchers estimated that women made up 30 percent to 50 percent of big-game hunters, on average, in the ancient Americas.

5. How have researchers typically viewed women in ancient hunter-gatherer societies? How is the finding challenging notions of ancient gender roles?

Ancient women typically have not been thought of as hunters. Sharpened stones and other hunting items found in ancient women’s graves were thought to be tools used for cutting or scraping rather than hunting. This view may have been influenced by the prevalence of male hunters in modern hunter-gatherer populations. The new discovery could lead scientists to revise ideas about women’s contributions to ancient hunter-gatherer societies.

6. What does archaeologist Ashley Smallwood say about the relationship between modern and ancient gender roles?

Scientists shouldn’t assume that modern gender roles apply to groups that lived long ago.

7. What does archaeologist Patricia Lambert say about the researchers’ findings?

Lambert questions whether the small sample of ancient people the researchers examined accurately reflects how often women participated in hunts.

8. What other discoveries may contribute to changing views of ancient gender roles? Explain.

Other research has found evidence for ancient warrior women in California and Mongolia, and among Scandinavian Vikings.

9. The following sentence from the Science News article contains a literary device: “The dominance of male hunters in modern hunter-gatherer populations has fueled a tendency to, in essence, give ancient men the spearpoint and ancient women the short end of the stick.” What is the device? Rewrite the sentence so that it conveys the same information without using the literary device.

The sentence contains an idiom. The dominance of male hunters in modern hunter-gatherer societies has fueled a tendency to overlook the possibility that ancient women could have also been big-game hunters.