Reevaluating History: The Role of Women as Prehistoric Hunters

by Mateo Gonzalez
prehistoric women hunters

Recent studies challenge the traditional view of prehistoric women’s roles, showing that they were not only involved in hunting but might have been physiologically more adept at it. This research draws from physiological and archaeological data, highlighting women’s endurance and questioning the rigid labor division in early societies. The findings call for a reexamination of preconceived notions regarding female abilities.

As a child, Cara Ocobock was intrigued by the stereotypical depictions in media of prehistoric men as hunters and women as gatherers. This imagery, she noted, was a common perception echoed in natural history museums.

Years later, as an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and head of the Human Energetics Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, Ocobock, with her research collaborator Sarah Lacy from the University of Delaware, conducted studies that revealed inaccuracies in these traditional gender roles. Their research, published in the American Anthropologist, examined both physiological and archaeological evidence, concluding that prehistoric women were actively engaged in hunting and might have been naturally better suited for it due to their biology.

Featured in the November issue of Scientific American, Ocobock’s research aims to correct historical narratives that have overlooked women’s roles. She emphasizes that the goal is not to rewrite but to correct history.

In their physiological study, Ocobock and Lacy argued that prehistoric women had the metabolic capacity for extended hunting activities. They highlighted the role of hormones like estrogen and adiponectin in enhancing female metabolism, critical for endurance activities. Estrogen, for instance, optimizes fat metabolism, prolonging energy and reducing fatigue during physical exertion. It also safeguards cells from damage during high-intensity activities. Adiponectin further boosts fat metabolism, protecting muscles during prolonged exercise.

Moreover, Ocobock and Lacy observed that female body structures, such as wider hips, contributed to more efficient and longer strides, beneficial for endurance hunting. This led Ocobock to compare women to marathon runners and men to powerlifters in terms of physical capabilities.

Archaeological evidence further supports the notion of women as hunters. Ocobock points out that both genders shared similar hunting-related injuries, as seen in fossil records, suggesting equal participation in hunting activities. Additionally, discoveries from the Holocene period in Peru show women buried with hunting tools, indicating the significance of hunting in their lives. Ocobock also notes the lack of evidence for a strict gender-based division of labor in early societies.

This research is particularly relevant in contemporary discussions on gender and sex. Ocobock stresses the importance of recognizing and addressing biases in scientific interpretations and urges caution against assigning abilities based solely on perceived gender.

The study, titled “Woman the hunter: The physiological evidence,” co-authored by Cara Ocobock and Sarah Lacy, was published on 04 September 2023 in the American Anthropologist, challenging long-held assumptions about gender roles in prehistoric times.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about prehistoric women hunters

What does the new research about prehistoric women reveal?

The recent studies reveal that prehistoric women were actively involved in hunting and might have been physiologically better suited for it. This challenges the traditional view of gender roles in prehistoric times, emphasizing the endurance and hunting capabilities of women based on physiological and archaeological evidence.

Who conducted the research on prehistoric women as hunters?

The research was conducted by Cara Ocobock, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and director of the Human Energetics Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame, and Sarah Lacy, an anthropologist specializing in biological archaeology at the University of Delaware.

What are the key physiological factors that suggest women were suited for hunting?

Key physiological factors include the presence of hormones like estrogen and adiponectin in higher quantities in females. Estrogen aids in fat metabolism, providing sustained energy and reducing fatigue during hunting. Adiponectin enhances fat metabolism while protecting muscles, crucial for endurance activities.

How does archaeology support the idea of women as hunters?

Archaeological evidence shows similar hunting-related injuries in both male and female fossils, indicating equal participation in hunting. Additionally, findings from the Holocene period in Peru revealed women buried with hunting tools, suggesting hunting was a significant part of their lives.

What is the significance of this research in understanding prehistoric societies?

This research is significant as it challenges long-standing biases and assumptions about gender roles in prehistoric societies. It highlights the need for a more accurate representation of women’s roles and capabilities, indicating a less rigid division of labor and more collaborative survival strategies in early human societies.

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Sara Ellis December 22, 2023 - 2:13 am

I read this article, and it’s really interesting! But, I think there’s more to the story, maybe? Like, how did they figure out all this stuff from just bones and old stuff?

Rachel Green December 22, 2023 - 10:03 am

Love the article, but I’m not totally convinced. Do we really have enough evidence to say for sure that women were hunters too? Just playing devil’s advocate here.

Mike Johnson December 22, 2023 - 11:51 am

Wow, this is super fascinating! never thought about prehistoric women in this way. its like we’re always learning something new about our past.

Kevin O'Reilly December 22, 2023 - 2:49 pm

kind of mind-blowing to think that what we learned in school might not be the whole truth. this article really makes you think about history differently.

Linda Martinez December 22, 2023 - 6:54 pm

Great article! But there were a few typos, like ‘adiponectin’ was spelled wrong in one part I think. Still, the content is really insightful.


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