Artist reconstruction of Wilamaya Patjxa vicuña hunt.

An artist’s impression of a vicuña hunt, inspired by the grave of a female teenager buried with hunting tools 9,000 years ago in what is now Peru. Credit: Matthew Verdolivo/UC Davis IET Academic Technology Services

Archaeology

The big-game hunter buried in an ancient grave: a female teenager

The burial and others like it suggest that female hunters were common in the Americas thousands of years ago.

The oldest known grave of a hunter in the Americas belongs to a female adolescent, further undercutting the stereotype of ‘man the hunter’.

In hunter-gatherer societies documented over the past century, men generally did the hunting and women did the gathering. But analysis by Randy Haas at the University of California, Davis, and his colleagues of an 9,000-year-old grave filled with hunting tools showed that the buried person was female, and no older than 19.

The grave, set high in the Andes in southern Peru, held stone dart points that would have been used for killing big game and stone blades for dressing carcasses in the field. Many of the artefacts were neatly stacked, as if they had been contained in a hunter’s toolkit.

The authors compiled data on prehistoric graves in the Americas that held big-game-hunting paraphernalia. Of the 27 individuals buried in such graves whose sex had been determined, 11 were female — suggesting that female hunters were commonplace in the prehistoric Americas, the authors say.