Archaeologists recently excavated the remains of a 9,000-year-old woman who was buried with items suggesting she was hunting big game. Since ancient big game hunting was seen as a man’s job, the discovery inspired researchers to dig deeper. What they found may force us to re-examine how we think about gender differences today.
Examining all excavations in the Americas from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, researchers found 27 individuals who had been buried with big game hunting tools – a surprising 41% (11) were female and the remaining 59% (16) were male. . They concluded that big game hunting was probably a relatively fair activity when it came to sex. In fact, the statistical analysis found “between 30 and 50% female participation, suggesting that early big game hunting was likely gender neutral or nearly gender neutral,” the researchers. write.
Now that we have learned that ancient females were big game hunters, we can no longer blame our ancestors for some of the sex differences we have today.
Based on the assumption that ancient men dominated the big game hunting world, psychologists have attributed a multitude of current gender differences to this presumed difference in our ancient history. The argument basically says that since in ancient times successful hunters were more likely to survive than those who were less skilled, the human male has evolved over thousands of years to have skills associated with hunting. successful. Studies have claimed that, therefore, men are more likely to assume risk, are more competitive and are even better at navigation, all because their male ancestors had to develop these skills to be good hunters.
A study have even attributed the enhanced human abilities of some Nintendo Wii video games to skills acquired by their hunting ancestors. Another examined the buying behavior of university students and found that male students buy more like hunters and female students buy more like gatherers.
The improved spatial ability of men or the ability to visualize and rotate objects in space has also been linked to the greater involvement of ancient humans in hunting. This enhanced spatial ability that humans ostensibly acquired from their hunting ancestors has been used to Explain contemporary gender differences in math skills. Some also claimed the story of men bringing the big game home successful in the current division of labor where men are stereotyped as family providers.
As we try to attract more women and girls into STEM fields, the arguments that suggest that they will perform less well in math because their ancestors did not hunt are clearly counterproductive. Likewise, evidence that women are genetically less likely to take risks or compete with each other may make them appear less suited to corporate leadership. Stereotypes of men as providers can also to contribute the gender pay gap. Now, the evidence that women were also big game hunters suggests that there must be an alternate explanation for these sex differences, perhaps an easier one than evolution.
Lead author of the current study, archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, Randy Haas says he believed the psychological propensities that evolved from our ancestors played a minor role in the division of today’s work. But he changed his mind after archaeological evidence indicated that many females were also hunters. As a result of current findings, he says, “I suspect that the evolved psychological differences were at best insignificant in the structuring of gender division of labor practices among early hunter-gatherers and therefore insignificant for most of history. evolutionary of our species. This line of reasoning would seem to erode advanced psychological models. Again, extrapolating to the contemporary sexual division of labor practices, I suspect that advanced psychologies are trivial. ”
Although adult females have been found with hunting tools in the past, researchers were reluctant to conclude that females actually participated in big game hunting. Much like the arguments that attempt to explain today’s gender-based divisions of labor, we assumed that our female ancestors were too busy procreating and raising children to be able to hunt. However, a see in contemporary foraging societies indicates that hunting has little impact on procreation or childcare. And when it comes to ancient civilizations, mothers have a lot of help in raising their young. “Alloparentality, which seems to have deep evolutionary roots in the human species, would have freed women from requests for childcare, allowing them to hunt”, anthropologists write. Alloparentality refers to someone other than the genetic parents caring for the children, a strategy that many working women today are also adopting.
So what is to blame for the gender division of labor in our world today if it cannot be blamed on the various jobs our ancestors held? Haas says there are three possibilities: differences in physical size between men and women, differences in reproduction, or sexist cultural norms. Since hunter-gatherer biology is the same as ours today, says Haas, “biology cannot explain the differences between the practices of the gender division of labor in the present and the past. This leaves sexist cultural norms as perhaps the main driver of the pronounced sexual division of labor in contemporary societies. At least, sexist cultural norms are easier to change than evolved psychological differences between the sexes.
Feminists have long criticized the idea that current gender differences evolved from our ancestors. Not only are evolved predispositions more difficult to change, but they allow us to forget about the real issues in today’s society that allow these gender differences to continue. Perhaps this archaeological find will help refocus our research on the origins of some of today’s gender differences.