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How a new study rejects the idea of ‘Man, the Hunter’, through female biology

  • Published
    29th Nov, 2023

Recently, a new study has argued that women not only hunted in Palaeolithic times, but they also had certain biological advantages.

  • A 2020 study from the University of California, Davis, found that between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the hunters were female, while analysing burial records from the Americas.
About the Study:
  • Basis of study:
    • For a long time, history textbooks said that thousands of years ago, men hunted animals while women gathered fruits and firewood, and nurtured their kids. This commonly accepted view was also known as ‘Man, the Hunter’.
    • But over the decades, several studies have challenged this idea, which is also used as an example to justify the division of labour on the basis of sex – that men and women should be restricted to certain professions and roles, because of their biological characteristics.
  • Key Findings:
    • Two recent studies have mentioned that not only did women participate in hunting big animals just as the men did, but their biology gave them certain advantages as well.
    • The report also mentioned that during Paleolithic era (between 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago) when humans used primitive tools and began residing in basic structures such as huts.
  • Arguments presented: The researchers made a case for ‘Woman, the Hunter’, from a physiological and archaeological lens:
  • Physiology: They argue that on average, the role of the estrogen hormone is not taken into account to speak about female physical capabilities.
    • Their study shows that “females may be metabolically better suited for endurance activities such as running, which could have profound implications for understanding subsistence capabilities and patterns in the past.”
    • Estrogen also helps to regulate the reproductive system and also influences fine-motor control and memory, enhances the growth and development of neurons, and helps to prevent hardening of the arteries.
    • Also estrogen seems to encourage the body to use stored fat for energy before stored carbohydrates.
    • Fat contains more calories per gram than carbohydrates do, so it burns more slowly, which can delay fatigue during endurance activity.
    • Archaeology: Burial remains for males and females, and techniques for doing so. According to the researchers, the remains of our closest extinct human relatives, the Neandertals, do not differ in their trauma or injury patterns based on sex.
    • Between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago, males do show higher rates of a set of injuries to the right elbow region, reflecting the frequency of the action of throwing spears.
    • Further, the fact that females and males were buried in the same way between 35,000 to 10,000 years ago, and interred with the same kinds of artifacts, also suggests a lack of differentiation.

Existing Theories supporting ‘Man as Hunter’:

  • A National Geographic article from 2007 explains: “Much of our anatomy, according to the Man-the-Hunter theory, was the result of adaptations for hunting.
  • However, a study in May 2023 from American researchers analysed 63 present-day foraging societies across the world.
  • It found that 50 (79 per cent) of them had documentation on women hunting, suggesting biology and processes such as pregnancy and menstruation had little role to play in participation in hunting.
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