Think the women of the ancient Americas were stuck crushing grain into flour while the men went hunting for big game? Researchers say you're wrong. "Early big-game hunting was likely gender neutral," reads a new study in Science Advances. The conclusion stems from a 9,000-year-old burial plot at the high-altitude site of Wilamaya Patjxa in southern Peru, where researchers led by Randy Haas of the University of California Davis found the remains a young adult woman. She had been buried with a toolkit of projectile points used to bring down big game, blades, a possible knife, and tools likely used for processing animal hides, all of which were stacked near a thigh bone "as if they had been held in a leather pouch that had disintegrated," per Science. Bone fragments of large animals were also found in the pit, and in a second, in which a man had been buried with two projectile points.
Intrigued, Haas looked for similar findings at other ancient sites in the Americas. He says he found evidence of hunting tools in graves containing 11 women and 16 men, per Science. From that, researchers conclude females likely made up 30% to 50% of early big-game hunters, per the New York Times. But some say the researchers are jumping to conclusions. Robert Kelly of the University of Wyoming agrees the female in Peru was a likely hunter. But he says there's no clear evidence that a person buried with tools ever used them. Indeed, infants have been buried with hunting tools. They might even have been left by male hunters, Kelly says. But Bonnie Pitblado of the University of Oklahoma, Norman, is confident females were hunting. "These women were living high up in the Andes, at 13,000 feet full time," she tells Science. "If you can do that, surely you can bring down a deer." (Read more discoveries stories.)