Admittedly, my obsession with the history of women hunters is getting a little out of hand. Why stop with corset-wearing, 19th-century outdoorswomen, when we can reach tens of thousands of years back in history to explore the practices of hide-wearing, prehistoric female predators.
The anthropological study I just read about isn't exactly new -- it was published by University of Arizona scientists Steven L. Kuhn and Mary C. Stiner in a 2006 Current Anthropology article. But the hypothesis it introduced was new to me when I came across it in The New York Times.
Kuhn and Stiner suggest that the gender-based division of labor we've come to associate with prehistoric life -- men go afield to do the hunting while women stay near home to do the gathering -- may have been a relatively "modern" development. The hunter-gatherer society, in fact, may not have been established until the arrival of modern man around 45,000 years ago.
Before that, their hypothesis suggests that Neanderthal women hunted big game right alongside their men. Kuhn and Stiner believe that these co-ed hunting parties roamed what is now Europe pursuing large animals such as bison, deer, gazelles, and wild horses, likely with stone-tipped spears. These women, and even children, participated in dangerous hunts by blocking the animals' exit, then acting as "beaters."
Their article reasoned that the skeletons of Neanderthal females seemed to be too "robustly built" to believe that women simply stayed home caring for their young. Also, archaeological Neanderthal sites don't include indicators like needle bones and plant grinding stones that would be found centuries later when women stayed near the home and used such tools to "keep house."
Whether you buy their theory -- or believe in evolution at all for that matter -- it's still an interesting hypothesis. Too bad, though, the National Sporting Goods Association wasn't around back then to track license sales -- then we'd know for sure to what extent prehistoric women hit the fields. -K.H.