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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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150 year old hunting kilt of the Kalahari San People

Science alert.com

From slaying centaurs to biblical mentions, poison-tipped arrows are a staple of cultural stories in the west. But they’ve also proved highly effective in reality, so much so that indigenous peoples around the world are still making use of them today, to successfully feed themselves and their families.

The Kalahari San of southern Africa hunt with small bone- or iron-tipped arrows that may look quite dainty, but when coated with poison, they also prove quite lethal. The hunter-gatherers daub their weapons with larvae entrails of a beetle called Diamphidia nigroonata. The larvae contain a diamphotoxin poison that is capable of bringing down an adult giraffe.

Some of the earliest solid evidence of poison use is traces of the highly toxic compound ricin on 24,000-year-old wooden applicators, found in South Africa’s Border cave. However, archaeologists have long suspected this hunting technique is much older, and new evidence now suggests humans have been shooting poison arrows through the last 72,000 years.

In a new study, archaeologist Marlize Lombard from the University of Johannesburg in South Africa examined the unique properties of known poison arrows, comparing them to those that don’t rely on poison, by analysing 128 bone pointed arrows.

Arrows that don’t use poison need to deeply pierce the bodies of prey to effectively kill or incapacitate, whereas those laced with poison just need to stab through an animal’s skin to access its bloodstream.

Using a measurement called the tip cross-sectional area (the part of the arrowhead important for both cutting into prey hide and the arrow’s flight dynamics) allowed Lombard to compare arrows through time. She focused her study on bone-tipped arrows because a lot of previous work looked only at stone-tipped arrows, given more of these have been preserved.

Lombard then assessed 306 Late Stone Age bone-point arrows, for these established properties.

Six of the bone-pointed arrows dated as far back as 72,000-80,000 years, from the Blombos Cave in South Africa. Three of these arrows have properties consistent with poisoned arrowheads.

“One is smaller, which if used as an un-poisoned arrowhead would have been ineffective,” Lombard wrote, which would make these the oldest known poison arrows in the world.

The sample size for the oldest arrows is small, and Lombard cautions that such a metric approach to weapons function can only tell us what the weapon had the potential to achieve, rather than the way they were actually used. Other clues are also required to establish probable use.

“When dealing with the human past, numbers alone can seldom reveal the nuances necessary for a deep understanding of techno-behaviours – for that a measure of qualitative assessment and interpretation is required,” she wrote.

Another of the bone points found at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa, older than 60,000 years, was found to have micro-cracks, which are consistent with use as an arrow.  This arrow was also found to have a black residue that Lombard and other researchers suspect is either poison, glue, or even both.

In more recent times, humans have made use of poisons from a large variety of life, including plants, poison dart frogs and even venomous lizards. Today, some of these poisons have the potential to be medically useful.

If Lombard’s findings hold true, they go to show how this ancient human technology became such an effective tool – one that has well and truly stood the test of time.

This research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

 

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Professor Oliver Craig sampling pottery Credit: Carl Heron

York.ac.uk

A new study shows that ancient Siberian hunters created heat resistant pots so that they could cook hot meals – surviving the harshest seasons of the ice age by extracting nutritious bone grease and marrow from meat.

The research – which was undertaken at the University of York – also suggests there was no single point of origin for the world’s oldest pottery.

Academics extracted and analysed ancient fats and lipids that had been preserved in pieces of ancient pottery – found at a number of sites on the Amur River in Russia – whose dates ranged between 16,000 and 12,000 years ago.

Potential

Professor Oliver Craig, Director of the BioArch Lab at the University of York, where the analysis was conducted, said: “This study illustrates the exciting potential of new methods in archaeological science: we can extract and interpret the remains of meals that were cooked in pots over 16,000 years ago.

“It is interesting that pottery emerges during these very cold periods, and not during the comparatively warmer interstadials when forest resources, such as game and nuts, were more available.”

Why these pots were first invented in the final stages of the last Ice Age has long been a mystery, as well as the kinds of food that were being prepared in them.

Climatic fluctuation

Researchers also examined pottery found from the Osipovka culture also on the Amur River. Analysis proved that pottery from there had been used to process fish, most likely migratory salmon, which offered local hunters an alternative food source during periods of major climatic fluctuation. An identical scenario was identified by the same research group in neighbouring islands of Japan.

The new study demonstrates that the world’s oldest clay cooking pots were being made in very different ways in different parts of Northeast Asia, indicating a “parallel” process of innovation, where separate groups that had no contact with each other started to move towards similar kinds of technological solutions in order to survive.

Lead author, Dr Shinya Shoda, of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Nara, Japan said:”We are very pleased with these latest results because they close a major gap in our understanding of why the world’s oldest pottery was invented in different parts of Northeast Asia in the Late Glacial Period, and also the contrasting ways in which it was being used by these ancient hunter-gatherers.

“There are some striking parallels with the way in which early pottery was used in Japan, but also some important differences that we had not expected. This leaves many new questions that we will follow up with future research.”

Origin point

Professor Peter Jordan, senior author of the study at the Arctic Centre and Groningen Institute of Archaeology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands said:”The insights are particularly interesting because they suggest that there was no single “origin point” for the world’s oldest pottery. We are starting to understand that very different pottery traditions were emerging around the same time but in different places, and that the pots were being used to process very different sets of resources.

“This appears to be a process of “parallel innovation” during a period of major climatic uncertainty, with separate communities facing common threats and reaching similar technological solutions.”

The last Ice Age reached its deepest point between 26,000 to 20,000 years ago, forcing humans to abandon northern regions, including large parts of Siberia. From around 19,000 years ago, temperatures slowly started to warm again, encouraging small bands of hunters to move back into these vast empty landscapes.

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11,500 years ago in what is now northeast Jordan, people began to live alongside dogs and may also have used them for hunting, a new study from the University of Copenhagen shows. The archaeologists suggest that the introduction of dogs as hunting aids may explain the dramatic increase of hares and other small prey in the archaeological remains at the site.

Source: 11,500-year-old animal bones in Jordan suggest early dogs helped humans hunt

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