Reexamining the male hunter, female gatherer paradigm – study

The idea of 'men hunt and women gather' is totally wrong according to a new study.

 A mosaic depicting hunters (photo credit: RAWPIXEL)
A mosaic depicting hunters
(photo credit: RAWPIXEL)

Although many imagine ancient human societies as having the hunting and gathering labor split between men and women respectively, a new study argues that women engaged in hunting as well.

The study was published in PLOS One, an open-access peer-reviewed journal published by the Public Library of Science.

Researchers examined ethnographic reports on ancient foraging societies to evaluate the relationship between gender and subsistence activity.

Where the study got its data

The study’s authors report that they compiled their data from sixty-three different foraging societies. These societies were compiled from all over the earth and ranging across the Americas, Africa, Australia, Asia, and Oceania.

Of the sixty-three different foraging societies, nearly four out of five (79%), had documentation on women engaging in hunting. Of those societies where women hunted and had data on whether said hunting was intentional or opportunistic, which was the majority, women overwhelming tended to hunt intentionally.

 Cave art from Africa (credit: PXFUEL)
Cave art from Africa (credit: PXFUEL)

Furthermore, the researchers note that “in [those foraging] societies where hunting is considered the most important subsistence activity, women actively participated in hunting 100% of the time.”

The study also looked at the type of game that women were hunting, on which, for the vast majority of societies, there was data available. In roughly half of these societies, women hunted small game and in an additional third, they hunted large game. About 15% of these societies documented women hunting medium sized game and several more documented women hunting game of all sizes.

Additionally, of these societies that documented the type of game women hunted, 13% also provided evidence that women hunted with dogs. Another 50% suggested the women of those societies hunted with children.

The study is enormously disruptive to notions of strict gender roles in hunter/gatherer societies.

“The prevalence of data on women hunting directly opposes the common belief that women exclusively gather while men exclusively hunt,” the researchers write. “And further, that the implicit sexual division of labor of ‘hunter/gatherer’ is misapplied.”