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Original article in Phys.org

very interesting article…JLP

by Vivek Venkataraman,  The Conversation

Women were successful big-game hunters, challenging beliefs about ancient gender roles
New evidence suggests that contrary to long-held beliefs, women were also big-game hunters. Credit: Shutterstock

Archeological evidence from Peru has revealed that some ancient big-game hunters were, in fact, women, challenging what science writer James Gorman wrote was “one of the most widely held tenets about ancient hunters and gatherers—that males hunted and females gathered.”

Man the Hunter” is a narrative of human origins developed by early 20th-century anthropologists armed with their imaginations and a handful of fossils. They viewed hunting—done by men—as the prime driver of human evolution, bestowing upon our early ancestors bipedalism, big brains, tools and a lust for violence. In this narrative, hunting also gave rise to the nuclear family, as women waited at home for men to bring home the meat. 

As an anthropologist who studies hunting and gathering societies, I was thrilled by the discovery of female skeletons buried with big-game hunting paraphernalia, a pattern that raises important questions about ancient gender roles. But I found most of the media coverage it generated disappointingly inaccurate. Responding to the finding, journalist Annalee Newitz wrote: “Nicknamed ‘man the hunter,” this is the notion that men and women in ancient societies had strictly defined roles: Men hunted, and women gathered. Now, this theory may be crumbling.

In fact, that theory died a well-deserved death decades ago.

Hunting origins

In 1966, 75 anthropologists (70 of whom were men) held a symposium called “Man the Hunter” at the University of Chicago to address one of humanity’s grand questions: How did people live before agriculture? The researchers had lived with and studied contemporary populations of hunting and gathering peoples around the world, from jungle to tundra.

It was there in Chicago that real-life data confronted the myth of Man the Hunter. Researchers showed that women worked just as hard as men, and plant foods gathered by women were crucially important in hunter-gatherer diets. Hunter-gatherer movement patterns were driven by a variety of ecological factors, not just game. And many hunter-gatherers were quite peaceful and egalitarian. Hunting wasn’t the sole driver or unifying theory of human evolution after all.

By the late 1970s, as anthropologists carried out further research on hunter-gatherers and paid attention to issues of gender, the myth of Man the Hunter fell into disfavor.

Updating beliefs

Even so, subsequent research has affirmed a simple division of labor among hunter-gatherers: men mostly hunt and women mostly gather. When anthropologist Carol Ember surveyed 179 societies, she found only 13 in which women participated in hunting

But it is a mistake to conflate this pattern of “most hunters are men” among hunter-gatherers with the myth of Man the Hunter. That myth was born of assumptions, not careful empirical research.

Through decades of field research, anthropologists have developed a more flexible and capacious view of human labor. According to this view, women are not bound by biology to gather, nor men to hunt. In fact, several accounts of women’s hunting in foraging societies had emerged by the mid-1980s.

In this context, ancient female hunters are an expectation, not a surprise. And the focus on Man the Hunter distracts from the more important question of how a society with female big-game hunters might be constructed. After all, women are perfectly capable of hunting, yet in most hunter-gatherer societies they don’t do it very often

Hunting and child care

One prominent explanation, elaborated in 1970 by feminist anthropologist Judith Brown, is that the demands of hunting conflict with the provision of child care. This was supported in a recent review of women’s hunting that surveyed traditional societies around the world; the authors found that pregnant or lactating women do not often hunt, and those with dependents only hunt when child care is available or rich hunting grounds are close to camp

These constraints play a role in shaping risk preferences. In hunter-gatherers, men’s hunting is risky, meaning it carries a high chance of failure. Men tend to hunt alone or in small groups and target big game with projectile weapons, which often requires fast-paced, long-distance travel. In contrast, women prefer to hunt in groups and focus on smaller, easier-to-capture prey closer to camps, often with the aid of dogs

Women are often crucial to the hunting success of others, whether through logistical or ritual assistance. Husbands and wives sometimes work collaboratively; in these instances women may help trap an animal, then club it to death and carry the meat home. And in big-game hunting societies, women provide support to hunters by manufacturing clothing, weaponry and transportation equipment. They may also participate in hunting directly by locating, then surrounding and driving game toward a killing location, as seen among high-latitude reindeer hunters and Plains bison hunters. As the authors of the new paper speculate, this is likely how the Peruvian female hunters killed game.

Women were successful big-game hunters, challenging beliefs about ancient gender roles
Girls from the hunting and gathering Batek tribe playing with blowpipes. Credit: Kirk Endicott

Updated views on plant gathering provide insight into why women may choose not to hunt altogether. No one questioned that hunting is hard, but early anthropologists often assumed women’s gathering was simple and easy. This turns out to be wrong. Like hunting, gathering demands extensive ecological knowledge and skill that is socially learned and cultivated over a lifetime.

As a result, hunter-gatherers face tough choices about how to divide difficult labor in a 24-hour day. In this context, economic considerations show that it pays to specialize: modest comparative advantages—speed and strength, and the incompatibilities posed by child care—can lead to divisions of labor that increase overall food acquisition by the group. From this perspective, women’s decisions to hunt less than men may be a rational decision about allocating effort. 

The Batek people

Many have assumed that by not hunting, women are relegated to lower status. But is that true?

I conduct my work among the Batek people, hunter-gatherers from the rainforests of Malaysia who are widely considered one of the most gender-egalitarian societies in the world. They have little material inequality, share food widely, abhor violence and emphasize individual autonomy.

When day breaks at camp, Batek men trek far, usually alone, to hunt monkeys with blowpipes. The women gather tubers or fruit in small groups closer to camp. Nothing prohibits women from hunting, as is the case with some hunter-gatherers where, for example, touching hunting weapons is forbidden. Batek women sometimes join in group hunts of bamboo rats, but it is otherwise rare. However, there are exceptions. Some teenage girls establish an interest in blowpipe hunting that carries into adulthood.

The Batek people say this division of labor comes down to strength differences, incompatibility with child care and differences in knowledge specialization. Hunting has great cultural significance, but women’s knowledge of plant distributions is crucial for collective decisions like moving camp. The Batek conceive of themselves as a co-operative and interdependent group in which each person makes a unique and important contribution toward a communal goal.

Beyond Man the Hunter

Contrary to news reports, the archeological findings from Peru accord well with current knowledge about how and why men and women divide labor among hunter-gatherers. And it has little to do with the myth of Man the Hunter.

The Peruvian hunter-gatherers were big-game specialists who used spear-throwing technologies that were likely relatively easy to learn. This may have enabled more flexible divisions of labor and broader participation in hunting by women, similar to what we see among some hunter-gatherers today. 

The social implications beyond these facts are not clear. That’s because one’s role in food collection has no simple relation to status or power dynamics. New research on neglected topics like the determinants of women’s status and risk-seeking economic behavior in traditional societies promises to shed light on this issue. But as the case with the Batek people shows, among a liberated society of equals, status and power has little to do with who brings in the meat.

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original in archaeology.org

Peru

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

November/December 2020Alcohol Peru Wari Chicha Brewery(Ryan Williams/Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project)

Chicha brewery, Cerro BaúlAlcohol Peru Wari Serving Jar Deity Cup(Ryan Williams/Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project, Cyrus Banikazemi/Cerro Baúl Palace Project)

Serving jar (top), Front-Facing Deity cup (above)High atop a mountain in southern Peru, leaders at the remote administrative center of Cerro Baúl once entertained local elites with elaborate feasts that helped sustain the Wari Empire from about A.D. 600 to 1000. Central to these gatherings was the ceremonial drinking of chicha, a typically corn-based fermented beverage. Based on the size of the spaces where the feasts took place, archaeologists think that they held 50 to 100 guests who imbibed chicha from vibrantly painted ceramic cups. These cups ranged in size to reflect the status of the drinkers and were decorated with images of Wari heroes and gods, such as the Front-Facing Deity, and more local stylistic flourishes, including llamas adorning the deities’ faces. “One of the most effective ways to bring local elites into the hierarchy of the empire was through drinking Wari beer the Wari way,” says archaeologist Donna Nash of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who codirects excavations at Cerro Baúl with archaeologist Ryan Williams of the Field Museum. “Many of the stories, songs, and ideas that went with that probably would have been expressed using the iconography on the vessels guests were drinking from.”

Because Cerro Baúl was a provincial outpost on the empire’s edge, the Wari relied on local resources and on-site brewing to maintain a steady flow of chicha. Nash and Williams have unearthed a large brewery where high-status Wari women ground, boiled, and fermented corn and other ingredients to produce the beverage. Analysis of residue extracted from drinking cups, serving vessels, and oversize storage jars from the brewery’s fermentation room indicate that the drink was likely a mixture of corn and molle, or Peruvian pepper tree berries, whose seeds the archaeologists found in large quantities in the brewery’s trash pits. Although the Wari at Cerro Baúl didn’t have direct access to fresh water, the region’s temperate climate was a boon for chicha production, even during more arid periods. “Molle berries produce year-round in this environment,” says Williams. “Corn can be double or triple cropped, so you can get two to three times the corn from a single year’s harvest.”

The Wari’s self-sufficiency ensured that feasting events could continue regardless of political disruptions or trade delays elsewhere in the empire. The archaeologists have determined that even the cups the Wari used were made in a ceramic workshop on the mountaintop using high-quality clay from a source they controlled across the valley, rather than imported from the distant imperial capital.

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First posted at phys.org

by  Autonomous University of Barcelona

Diet of pre-Columbian societies in the Brazilian Amazon reconstructed
Human burial with incised ceramic at the archaeological site of Bacanga at Sao Luas Island. Credit: André Colonese

An international study led by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) and the Department of Prehistory at the UAB has reconstructed the diets of pre-Columbian groups on the Amazon coast of Brazil, showing that tropical agroforestry was regionally variable.

During the past few decades, there has been an increased interest in the origin and evolution of pre-Columbian economies in the Amazon. However, the paucity of human remains from this period has limited our understanding of the contribution of plants, terrestrial animals and fish to individual diets and, therefore, their role in supporting population growth and cultural changes in this region before European contact.

This new study, published in Scientific Reports, used stable isotopic analysis and Bayesian Mixing Models to reconstruct the diets of human individuals living along the Brazilian Amazon coast between 1,000 and 1,800 years ago.

They found that despite the proximity to marine resources and the evidence of fishing, diets were based mainly on terrestrial plants and animals. Land mammals and plants were the main sources of caloric intake. Land animals were also the main source of dietary protein, compared to fish.

Among the taxonomically identified animals, they found rodents such as paca, cavia or cutia, a brocket deer and catfish. In the late Holocene a large variety of wild and cultivated plants such as cassava, corn, squash, among others, were consumed.

Diet of pre-Columbian societies in the Brazilian Amazon reconstructed
The archaeological site of Bacanga at Sao Luas Island. Credit: André Colonese

“The results call into question the widespread assumption that fish was the main economic component and the largest source of protein among pre-Columbian populations living in proximity to aquatic environments in lowland Amazonia,” says Colonese. He adds that the results indicate these populations dedicated considerable efforts to hunting, forest management and plant cultivation.

“Our study provides unprecedented quantitative information on the extent to which distinct food categories from agroforestry systems fulfilled the caloric and protein requirements of populations in the pre-Columbian Amazon, and corroborates the growing consensus that these diversified subsistence economies fuelled cultural, demographic and environmental transformations in the eastern Amazon basin during the Late Holocene.”

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Credit Dr Edmar Almeida de Oliveira

Exeter.ac.uk

Innovation by ancient farmers to improve soil fertility continues to have an impact on the biodiversity of the Amazon, a major new study shows.

Early inhabitants fertilized the soil with charcoal from fire remains and food waste. Areas with this “dark earth” have a different set of species than the surrounding landscape, contributing to a more diverse ecosystem with a richer collection of plant species, researchers from the State University of Mato Grosso in Brazil and the University of Exeter have found.

The legacy of this land management thousands of years ago means there are thousands of these patches of dark earth dotted around the region, most around the size of a small field. This is the first study to measure the difference in vegetation in dark and non-dark earth areas in mature forests across a region spanning a thousand kilometers.

The team of ecologists and archaeologists studied abandoned areas along the main stem of the Amazon River near Tapajós and in the headwaters of the Xingu River Basin in southern Amazonia.

Lead author Dr Edmar Almeida de Oliveira  said: “This is an area where dark earth lush forests grow, with colossal trees of different species from the surrounding forest, with more edible fruit trees, such as taperebá and jatobá.”

The number of indigenous communities living in the Amazon collapsed following European colonization of the region, meaning many dark earth areas were abandoned.

The study, published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography, reveals for the first time the extent to which pre-Columbian Amerindians influenced the current structure and diversity of the Amazon forest of the areas they once farmed.

Researchers sampled around 4,000 trees in southern and eastern Amazonia. Areas with dark earth had a significantly higher pH and more nutrients that improved soil fertility. Pottery shards and other artefacts were also found in the rich dark soils.

Professor Ben Hur Marimon Junior, from the State University of Mato Grosso, said: “Pre-Columbian indigenous people, who fertilized the poor soils of the Amazon for at least 5,000 years, have left an impressive legacy, creating the dark earth, or Terras Pretas de Índio

Professor José Iriarte, an archaeologist from the University of Exeter, said: “By creating dark earth early inhabitants of the Amazon were able to successfully cultivate the soil for thousands of years in an agroforestry system

“We think ancient communities used dark earth areas to grow crops to eat, and adjacent forests without dark earth for agroforestry.”

Dr Ted Feldpausch, from the University of Exeter, who co-authored the study with Dr Luiz Aragão from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil, said: “After being abandoned for hundreds of years, we still find a fingerprint of the ancient land-use in the forests today as a legacy of the pre-Colombian Amazonian population estimated in millions of inhabitants.

“We are currently expanding this research across the whole Amazon Basin under a project funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council(NERC) to evaluate whether historical fire also affected the forest areas distant from the anthropogenic dark earths”.

Many areas with dark earth are currently cultivated by local and indigenous populations, who have had great success with their food crops. But most are still hidden in the native forest, contributing to increased tree size, carbon stock and regional biodiversity. For this reason, the lush forests of the “Terra Preta de Índio” and their biological and cultural wealth in the Amazon must be preserved as a legacy for future generations, the researchers have said. Areas with dark earth are under threat due to illegal deforestation and fire.

 “Dark earth increases the richness of species, an important consideration for regional biodiversity conservation. These findings highlight the smallscale longterm legacy of preColumbian inhabitants on the soils and vegetation of Amazonia,” said co-author Prof Beatriz Marimon, from the State University of Mato Grosso.

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