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She Hunted the Mammoth

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If you’re a regular reader of We Hunted the Mammoth, you probably know the story behind the site’s ironic name — it came from a rant by a Men’s Rights activist type demanding that women show more gratitude toward men because of all the selfless things men have allegedly done for women in history.

“Men gave you this modern world now you take it for granted,” he declared, “we hunted the mammoth to feed you … .”

You hunted the mammoth, eh? Not so fast. Turns out as many as half of all prehistoric mammoth-hunters were, you guessed it, cave women. According to science. Or at least to National Geographic, in a piece posted today:

Randall Haas, an archaeologist at University of California, Davis, recalls the moment in 2018 when his team of researchers gathered around the excavated burial of an individual lain to rest in the Andes Mountains of Peru some 9,000 years ago. Along with the bones of what appeared to be a human adult was an impressive—and extensive—kit of stone tools an ancient hunter would need to take down big game, from engaging the hunt to preparing the hide.

“He must have been a really great hunter, a really important person in society”—Haas says that’s what he and his team were thinking at the time.

Oh, but there’s a little plot twist: turns out he was a she.

[F]urther analysis revealed a surprise: the remains found alongside the toolkit were from a biological female. What’s more, this ancient female hunter was likely not an anomaly, according to a study published today in Science Advances. The Haas team’s find was followed by a review of previously studied burials of similar age throughout the Americas— and it revealed that between 30 and 50 percent of big game hunters could have been biologically female.

(Or at least Assigned Female at Birth; as NatGeo notes,we don’t know their gender identities.)

As NatGeo goes on to explain:

This new study is the latest twist in a decades-long debate about gender roles among early hunter-gather societies. The common assumption was that prehistoric men hunted while women gathered and reared their young. But for decades, some scholars have argued that these “traditional” roles—documented by anthropologists studying hunter-gatherer groups across the globe since the 19th century—don’t necessarily stretch into our deep past.

While the new study provides a strong argument that the individual in Peru was a female who hunted, plenty of other evidence has long been lying in plain sight, says Pamela Geller, an archaeologist at the University of Miami who is not part of the study team.

“The data is there,” Geller says. “It’s just a matter of how the researchers interpret it.”

So I guess the anonymous ranter who inadvertently provided this blog with a name has some apologies to make now that we know women hunted the mammoth too.

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Naglfar
Naglfar
20 days ago

Or at least Assigned Female at Birth; as NatGeo notes,we don’t know their gender identities.

This is a good point. Trans and non-binary identities have existed before recorded history, yet archaeologists often don’t acknowledge this due to modern Western biases.

Most of our historic beliefs about gender roles are projections of modern patriarchal bias. Patriarchy seems to have mainly come into existence after sedentary civilizations, there’s no reason to assume it would have been around in prehistory.

Mish of the Catlady Ascendancy
Mish of the Catlady Ascendancy
20 days ago

This is extremely cool.

One of the main issues with the “man = hunter” narrative is not so much the way it divides labour but more so in the way it assigns value to only one side. Even if only men hunted (which now seems unlikely, looking at the evidence here), the work done by women was equally if not more essential. All of that “gathering” sustained people and kept them fed, and looking after kiddos is kind of essential too. But of course manosphere types don’t see that. It’s a shame that these ideas bleed over to regular people, too – the whole notion of hunting big animals as being something amazing that outshines everyone else’s contribution.

I hope USian mammotheers are hanging in there 💜

Victorious Parasol
Victorious Parasol
20 days ago

It just makes sense that hunters would be anybody willing and able to hunt – “able” in this case meaning “able to go out and not get themselves or their friends killed. Hunting isn’t just about brute strength.

Naglfar
Naglfar
20 days ago

@Mish

Even if only men hunted (which now seems unlikely, looking at the evidence here), the work done by women was equally if not more essential.

I would lean towards more so. Most of the diet would have consisted of plants, and gatherers/women would have been the ones to develop agriculture.

Policy of Madness
Policy of Madness
20 days ago

Most prehistoric hunting seems to have occurred using pit traps, or driving prey over cliffs, both of which strategies are shockingly effective at causing extinction of the targeted prey animal. Neither strategy requires a ton of physical strength; carrying the harvested meat back to camp would require more, but the whole tribe and not just “the hunters” could pitch in on that one.

Alan Robertshaw
20 days ago

@ POM

carrying the harvested meat back to camp

Cut marks on mammoth bones (and other megafuana) suggest they only butchered the choicest parts of the carcass; basically living off fillet and abandoning the rest.

This is hardly indicative of hunting being an overly dangerous or arduous process.

I know people say about the difficulties in storing meat; but they certainly had the skills to do that. And they were certainly taking at least some meat back home for later use. Unless they had prehistoric equivalents of those ‘eat your own weight in steak’ deals.

Last edited 20 days ago by Alan Robertshaw
Correction Automatique
Correction Automatique
20 days ago

That doesn’t explain the “it wasn’t moving, so I couldn’t see it” proliferation, most particularly, in my predominantly male workplace. Hmmmm….

ObSidJag
ObSidJag
20 days ago

None of this is exactly surprising (though it is satisfying to read).

Heck, I remember in my Anthropology classes (taken *many* moons ago) the instructors pointing out that in modern Hunter/Gatherer cultures while women gathered, they were also on the look out for fish, small game, etc.

It wasn’t like they spotted a tasty turtle or rabbit and thought, “Too bad I can’t bag that for the kids and me ’cause I’m female and Great Big Manly Male Hunter is off on a 3 day jaunt in the Bush. Guess it’s plantains again tonight, kids.”

No, they caught that rabbit, turtle, whatever, the only difference being they usually ate what they caught right then.

Sadly, I think most manospherian types (if they read it at all) will put this down to some sort of “appease the feminsts” and dismiss the info out of hand.

epitome of incomrepehensibility

@Victorious Parasol –

It just makes sense that hunters would be anybody willing and able to hunt

Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard too! One of the tough parts about living in a pre-agricultural society would be spending so much time and energy finding stuff to eat.

@ObSidJag –

It wasn’t like they spotted a tasty turtle or rabbit and thought, “Too bad I can’t bag that for the kids and me ’cause I’m female and Great Big Manly Male Hunter is off on a 3 day jaunt in the bush. Guess it’s plantains again tonight, kids.”

That made me laugh. 😛 I’ve read a bit about Inuit cultures, which had fairly gender-segregated roles, but women would definitely hunt things.

E.g. if I’m remembering right, the book Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk describes the main character fishing, gathering crabs, etc.

That’s one book that I read at the library and want to buy. The author started off writing it as an Inuktitut vocabulary-teaching tool, so the first chapters are kind of short and episodic, but I still found them fascinating (and the later chapters develop the characters more).

…Plus even vocabulary-teaching stuff can be made creatively. E.g. I like the video series Nicos Weg for German vocab. Not that this has anything to with mammoths, though 🙂

Last edited 20 days ago by epitome of incomrepehensibility
Mish of the Catlady Ascendancy
Mish of the Catlady Ascendancy
20 days ago

@Naglfar

I would lean towards more so. Most of the diet would have consisted of plants, and gatherers/women would have been the ones to develop agriculture.

Absolutely. And as @ObSidJag has pointed out, gatherers would probably have caught/trapped small game too.
The development of agriculture was a total game-changer, but you won’t see that in any manospherian accounts 🙂

Seth S
Seth S
20 days ago

Well, the blog name is still accurate. “We” indeed hunted the mammoth, where “we” refers to every able bodied person in the given tribe, but credit has been too long assigned to only one portion of that group, suck it haters.

I found an interesting academic paper studying the gender diversity of pre-Roman European tribal people where they started doing genetic testing in a burial area that had been excavated and catalogued some decades earlier, and of course, to their shock, they found that one of the apparent buried married couples, one arrayed in traditional male dress with weapons and a masculine burial position, and the other in extremely feminine dress and jewelry and burial position, were actually both XY, genetically, so it seems safe to assume she was a beloved and well respected trans woman in her community and certainly dearly loved by the man she was buried with. Another buried person who had been assumed male by clothing, artifacts, jewelry style and weapons, but tested XX, and the researchers initially tried to hand wave it as having been a woman with many male admirers who gifted her their personal weapons and jewelry on her death, which seems pretty suss (and also seemed suspicious to the author of the paper who was documenting this…. erasure). If I recall correctly, nearly 7% of the burial site occupants did not genetically test as the same sex as they had been initially gendered by the archaeologists, and were catalogued as decades ago. Funny how biases work.

Alan Robertshaw
20 days ago

@ mish

The development of agriculture was a total game-changer

Indeed; and not necessarily for the better. The subsequent permanent settlements gave rise to over exploitation of land, increase in diseases, and now status was dependant on how much you owned (cattle, land, access to resources) rather than, as was the case in hunter gathering, how good you were at something desirable. Tracking, plant knowledge, telling interesting stories whilst you were sat waiting for the mammoths to show up etc.

On the other hand, I do like Weetabix. So I guess it’s swings and roundabouts.

(There’s some really fascinating theories about Gobekli Tepe and the transition from H-Ging to farming)

Big Titty Demon
Big Titty Demon
20 days ago

@Naglfar

Most of the diet would have consisted of plants, and gatherers/women would have been the ones to develop agriculture.

That reminds me of an ad that keeps popping up on YouTube for some farm AI thing. It goes “imagine this and that scenario in the past. The first seed. The first farmer.” And zooms up on the seed and the farmer, who is, of course, a caveman. Every time I see it I’m like… no, no, no, you can’t have it both ways! Remember men did the hunting while the women stayed and piddled with plants, so that’s a woman that’s the first farmer!

There’s just this giant unspoken “men were the ones that did everything good in the progress of civilization” that pisses me off.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
20 days ago

One important thing about thoses talks of “importances” is that human became predators instead of staying vegetarian because they absolutely needed to, for a mix of climate change (already !) and bigger energitic need.

Hunters, fishers, gatherers, and later farmers were all absolutely necessary part of the human race. Only *way* later were humans able to drop some of thoses.

Gwynfydd
Gwynfydd
20 days ago

@AlanRobertshaw

Tracking, plant knowledge, telling interesting stories whilst you were sat waiting for the mammoths to show up etc.

Yeah! That sounds like a pretty good life to me. Leaving out the mammoth bit and it’s a normal day for me!

And I love, love, love this article so much and how it doesn’t debunk the blog name but smacks down the manospherians!

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
20 days ago

Big Titty Demon:

There’s just this giant unspoken “men were the ones that did everything good in the progress of civilization” that pisses me off.

I think the mammoth thing is meant to be a general metaphor for exactly that, anyway.

It’s like, white man is the default human for most conceptual purposes – for example when discussing prehistoric humans at the dawn of time. Women and non-white people only exist in certain contexts that suit the relevant stereotypes, and then the women are usually white and the non-white people are usually male. Non-white women hardly exist anywhere at all.

Ohlmann
Ohlmann
20 days ago

See also : greek heroes and Jesus depicted as typical caucasian. The difference between a roman emperor and a viking in popular culture is pretty much its clothing.

The idea of Alan that earlier gatherer tribe was much more about knowledge and much less about capital and status do seem a very, very, very big wishful thinking. If anything, the ability to overthrown social status accumulation by physical possession look like an improvement over the older power structure.

Because there’s the big thing : just like exam test your ability to take exams and no actual skill, social status isn’t based on your ability to hunt/gather/whatever, but on your ability to make people like you.

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
20 days ago

Ohlmann:

See also : greek heroes and Jesus depicted as typical caucasian. The difference between a roman emperor and a viking in popular culture is pretty much its clothing.

BTW we may think of North/West European people as “typical Caucasian” but anthropologically speaking there probably never was such a thing, or if there was it probably referred to the Caucasus region.

The idea of Alan that earlier gatherer tribe was much more about knowledge and much less about capital and status do seem a very, very, very big wishful thinking. If anything, the ability to overthrown social status accumulation by physical possession look like an improvement over the older power structure.

Because there’s the big thing : just like exam test your ability to take exams and no actual skill, social status isn’t based on your ability to hunt/gather/whatever, but on your ability to make people like you.

Citation?

I was just rereading Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”, which is largely about the development of “civilization”. He claims that small primitive societies tend to be socioeconomically rather egalitarian, especially outside the gender divide.

Apparently, in practice, everyone relies on the skills and good graces of everyone else, rather than just the skilled few. If some skill or knowledge is truly rare, it’s probably not even found in a society of 100 people. Manipulation or scamming is difficult when you’re limited to dealing with your extended family members who are also your lifelong close neighbors. And obviously there isn’t much surplus wealth to accumulate.

Pie
Pie
20 days ago

@epitome of incomrepehensibility

Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard too! One of the tough parts about living in a pre-agricultural society would be spending so much time and energy finding stuff to eat.

Hunter gatherers had it easy compared to early agricultural people. They spent less time working on acquiring food, and the work they did was largely much less physically destructive on their bodies. Not being tied to a small parcel of land meant that they were less vulnerable to some kinds of local and seasonal risks, or domination by a lord. Women wouldn’t have had so many children in the same period of time, which is much better for their health and longevity. This also implies that childhood mortality was lower. I suspect that also there was less childhood malnutrition too, which would have caused lifelong health issues in agricultural societies trying to recover from bad years.

Life has been pretty rubbish for subsistence farmers for millenia.

The flip side would have been your friends and family either abandoning you or hitting you over the head with a rock when you became too old, ill or otherwise infirm to keep up with the band…

@Alan Robertshaw

now status was dependant on how much you owned (cattle, land, access to resources) rather than, as was the case in hunter gathering, how good you were at something desirable

Moreover it became a zero-sum game: when all wealth and influence is ultimately derived from land ownership, and all the land is owned (and the ownership is enforced with pointy things) then the only way you can become richer is for someone else to become poorer. The new inequalities also meant that once you were rich and powerful enough it was easy for you to force your poorer neighbours into agreements that benefitted you far more, up to and including lifelong and inheritable slavery in the form of debt bondage with debts that the rich party could ensure were never paid off.

(note that this is precisely the sort of society that libertarians, anarcho-capitalists and other small-government-unrestrained-capitalism-type people want everyone to live in, whether they admit it or not)

Last edited 20 days ago by Pie
Ohlmann
Ohlmann
20 days ago

@Lumipuna : there’s a confusion here. What I mean is that the skills that create the pecking order in a stone age society *still* aren’t hunting skill, but manipulation and social skills, and that’s still as problematic as material wealth. Especially since, you know, social status is inheritable, and it’s alway been easier to amass wealth than to amass status.

Citation for “Manipulation or scamming is difficult when you’re limited to dealing with your extended family members” ? It’s rather the opposite in my experience. It’s not total strangers nor small acquaintance that tend to manipulate and scam. It’s close family and friends who do that.

To say it otherwise, the importance in a lion pride isn’t by any mean based on how good a hunter or huntress anyone is. It’s based on their social skill and interactions. I don’t find being looked down because I am poor worse than being looked down because I don’t care about politics. The earliest human community were closer to a pride of lion than to modern society, but it mean mostly that it sucked in entirely different way.

galanx
galanx
20 days ago

One of my favorite names is the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump park in Alberta. For thousands of years natives, both men and women, hunted buffalo in the area by driving them over a conveniently-located local cliff. Then one day, some young man decided he wanted to watch the plummeting buffalo from underneath….

Lumipuna
Lumipuna
20 days ago

Ohlmann:

Oh, undoubtedly people living in small tight-knit communities can be bullied, abused or neglected based on social dynamics. However this doesn’t seem to result in strong, formal inheritable hierarchies like you see in the later, larger agricultural societies. Also, I doubt this dynamics got any easier in the agricultural era.

As for manipulation and scamming, I’m not so sure about my ideas, or my wording. Diamond claims small tribes tend to not have individuals who live off others’ work (or if they do, it’s due to disability, not status).

I very much agree that “primitive” life sucked in certain ways. Aside from the lack of modern medicine, my impression is that tribal cultures were quite conformist and restrictive of individual freedom. This didn’t get really any better in later farming villages, until people started moving to cities.

Pie
Pie
20 days ago

@Ohlmann

social status is inheritable, and it’s alway been easier to amass wealth than to amass status.

Maintaining social status without the prop of wealth is difficult, though. Charisma and the ability to manipulate are not exactly heritable attributes, and if they are the foundation of status then unless you’ve inherited your parent’s silver tongue then as soon as they pass away your status has all but vanished.

Conversely, in a society where status is conveyed by possessions then once you have inherited the possessions then the status is yours and will remain that way unless you are sufficiently unlucky or incompetent as to lose your wealth.

It’s not total strangers nor small acquaintance that tend to manipulate and scam. It’s close family and friends who do that.

When your entire society consists of fewer than 100 people then the effects of being caught scamming can be catastrophic. There’s nowhere to go. Joining another band of people may be impossible. People in modern society simply do not face that kind of risk.

the importance in a lion pride isn’t by any mean based on how good a hunter or huntress anyone is. It’s based on their social skill and interactions

You can’t eat charisma, and it won’t keep the rain off. Someone who charms and bullies and manipulates their way to the top still has to keep the favor of the providers in a group where there isn’t enough excess capacity to support an idle kleptocrat and there isn’t substantial heritable wealth and power. The position at the top has to be earned, and much like a pride of lions or pack or wolves the strength and force of personality that might take someone to the top won’t last forever and you can’t hand it on to your friends and family.

Sure, primate dominance dynamics apply in both cases, but it wasn’t until the advent of agrarian society you could have a world where you could be born into poverty and be effectively guaranteed that you would never escape it, nor could your children, or theirs.

an autistic giraffe
an autistic giraffe
19 days ago

“Men gave you this modern world now you take it for granted,” he declared, “we hunted the mammoth to feed you … .”

And then a caveman walked out of a time portal and said “Who the fuck’s WE asshole?”

Even without these finds that’s dumb thing to say.

Naglfar
Naglfar
19 days ago

@an autistic giraffe
The alt right is obsessed with taking credit as a group for things because they have no individual achievements to be proud of. As a result, they turn to group identities such as race or nationality. I guess they don’t realize that most early humans probably had darker skin. And, as Seth mentions, probably had more progressive views on gender and LGBTQ+.

Last edited 19 days ago by Naglfar
Big Titty Demon
Big Titty Demon
19 days ago

@Pie

The flip side would have been your friends and family either abandoning you or hitting you over the head with a rock when you became too old, ill or otherwise infirm to keep up with the band…

I remember an article in the BBC which I’m not having success finding, but will keep trying, in which the executioner of old women for an Amazon hunter-gatherer tribe was interviewed. His basic opinion of the practice of killing grannies too old to be useful anymore (with a rock, actually) was “all the women in the tribe fear me and it makes me feel good”. Old men were not killed this way, but told to go out into the jungle by themselves.

I don’t know that I feel this gender gap between certain death, dealt by a man, and being given a sporting chance to live, is exactly egalitarian.

Jenora Feuer
Jenora Feuer
19 days ago

@Ohlmann:

See also : greek heroes and Jesus depicted as typical caucasian. The difference between a roman emperor and a viking in popular culture is pretty much its clothing.

Or, for that matter,Santa Claus. (The original Saint Nicholas of Bari was born in what is now Turkey of a largely Greek family. It’s highly unlikely his skin was any lighter than the traditional Mediterranean ‘olive’, and many paintings portray him as fairly dark. Granted, he’s from the 4th century, so we don’t exactly have many first-hand accounts.)

@Lumipuna:

Apparently, in practice, everyone relies on the skills and good graces of everyone else, rather than just the skilled few. If some skill or knowledge is truly rare, it’s probably not even found in a society of 100 people. Manipulation or scamming is difficult when you’re limited to dealing with your extended family members who are also your lifelong close neighbors. And obviously there isn’t much surplus wealth to accumulate.

Dunbar’s Number which is the purported largest stable size of a social group (based on how many mental connections to people you can hold at once) is usually given as 100-150 for humans. How much that actually applies to humans is rather up for debate, but the basic principle of ‘if there are only 100 people in the area then everybody can properly know and recognize everybody else’ seems valid enough.

And yes, in small towns like that ostracizing and bullying definitely happens, and if anything it can be even worse than in larger communities precisely because there is nowhere else to go without giving up your entire social life.

@pie:

Charisma and the ability to manipulate are not exactly heritable attributes

If anything, I’d suspect the correlation on ‘ability to manipulate’ leans slightly the other way: somebody who’s grown up and lived their entire young life at the mercy of a manipulative gaslighting asshole is unlikely to have the self-confidence needed to be any good at such manipulation themselves. But I could easily be wrong.

Naglfar
Naglfar
19 days ago

@Jenora Feuer

And yes, in small towns like that ostracizing and bullying definitely happens, and if anything it can be even worse than in larger communities precisely because there is nowhere else to go without giving up your entire social life.

I think this might also be why small towns/communities tend to be conservative: people there are used to the same people all the time, so people that are different are surprising to them and might be distrusted. And being a marginalized group in a small town can be awful because you’ve likely got no community of your demographic and are surrounded by people who don’t like you.

Alan Robertshaw
19 days ago

Throughout history, things like ostracisation and banishment have been common punishments in small inter-dependant communities. A classic example perhaps is outlawry. Basically, if you don’t abide by the rules of the community, you no longer benefit from protection under those rules.

And there are of course a number of religious groups where there are similar punishments; effectively making you a non-person if you transgress.

But this can happen in any group that seeks a strong homogenous identity, from the playground to the Roman Empire.

Lukas Xavier
Lukas Xavier
19 days ago

It’s like, white man is the default human for most conceptual purposes – for example when discussing prehistoric humans at the dawn of time.

Indeed, it’s interesting why it’s hunting the mammoth, and not the buffalo or the antelope.

otrame
otrame
19 days ago

They worked out in the 60s and 70s that the gathering was roughly 80 percent of the diet. At least in desert and near-desert landscapes. Hunting big game does not provide anything like a steady diet. Digging up roots, collecting berries and snails, setting dead traps, throwing sticks at rabbits (that’s what boomerangs are–rabbit sticks) provided most of the food and could be done by a pregnant woman carrying a two year old.

That’s not to say that hunting wasn’t important. When you’ve lived on tough old roots and some snails for weeks, a big old steak much have seemed like heaven.

Another Laura
Another Laura
19 days ago

I always love a chance to share one of my favorite books – The Descent of Women by Elaine Morgan. Written in the 1970s, it’s a very entertaining read that surveys everything that was known about early human evolution, but flips the script by pointing out that evolution is all about making sure babies survive, and that all the “Man the Mighty Hunter” garbage manages to ignore that basic fact. Though she doesn’t identify it by name, it was one of the first times I recall anyone calling out implicit bias, and how it affects scientific inquiry.

Luzbelitx
18 days ago

the development of agriculture was a total game-changer

.

Indeed; and not necessarily for the better.

In fact, some authors place the origins of patriarchy around those times.

Catalpa
Catalpa
18 days ago

The flip side would have been your friends and family either abandoning you or hitting you over the head with a rock when you became too old, ill or otherwise infirm to keep up with the band…

There’s actually a fair amount of ancient graves of disabled people that indicate that the ill and infirm were cared for by their group. Prehistoric people weren’t automatically the ableist eugenicists that some people imagine.
https://www.livescience.com/61743-rich-paleolithic-burials.html

Cyborgette
Cyborgette
17 days ago

@Big Titty Demon, belatedly: thank you for mentioning that… My gods, that’s horrifying. And enraging.

*heavy sigh*

The more I see of the world, the more I feel like radical feminists were right, and misogyny is the ur-oppression.