“Woman Huntress”: Research aims to correct history

BYLINE: Tracy Destacio

Newswise – When Kara Okobok As a young child, he was often intrigued by the images in movies, books, comics, and cartoons of prehistoric men and women: “Hunter Man” with a spear in hand, “Gatherer Woman” with a baby attached to him. Back and harvest seed basket in hand.

“It was something everyone was used to seeing,” Okobok said. “That was an assumption we all had in mind, and it was done in our natural history museums.”

after many years Okobokin Assistant Professor Department of Anthropology And the director of the Human Energy Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame found that as a human biologist, studying physiology and prehistoric evidence, he found that many of these concepts about early men and women were not accurate. According to the accepted reconstruction of human evolution, men were biologically superior, but this interpretation did not tell the whole story.

It relies on both Physiological and archaeological As evidence, Okobok and his research partner, Sarah Lacey, an anthropologist with expertise in biological archeology at the University of Delaware, recently published two studies simultaneously in the journal American Anthropologist. Their joint research, which came from these two angles, found that not only were prehistoric women engaged in the practice of hunting, but that their female anatomy and biology made them inherently better suited for it.

About his and his co-author's mutual research, which was the cover of the November issue Scientific AmericanOkobok said, “Rather than seeing it as a way of erasing or rewriting history, our research seeks to correct the history that erased women from it.”

Female Physiology and Estrogen, “Life's Unseen Hero”

in them Physiological studyThe two researchers explained that prehistoric females were quite capable of the physically demanding task of hunting and likely hunted successfully for long periods of time. Metabolically, Okobok explained, a woman's body is better suited for endurance activity, “which would have been critical in the early hunts because they would have had to tire the animals out before they could actually kill them.”

Two major contributors to increased metabolism are hormones—in this case, estrogen and adiponectin, which are typically present in greater amounts in women's bodies than in men. These two hormones play an important role in modulating glucose and fat in the female body, a function that is key to athletic performance.

Estrogen, in particular, helps regulate fat metabolism, encouraging the body to use its stored fat for energy before using up its carbohydrate stores. “Because fat contains more calories than carbohydrates, it burns longer and slower,” Okobok explained, “which means the same sustained energy can last longer and delay fatigue.

Estrogen also protects the body's cells from damage from heat exposure due to extreme physical activity. “Estrogen is really life's unsung hero, in my opinion,” Okobok said. “It's very important for cardiovascular and metabolic health, brain development and injury repair.”

Adiponectin also boosts fat metabolism, sparing carbohydrate and/or protein metabolism, allowing the body to stay on course for long periods of time, especially over long distances. In this way, adiponectin can protect muscles from breakdown and keep them in better condition for sustained exercise, Okobok explained.

Female body structure itself is another element that Ocobock and Lacy favored for prehistoric hunters in terms of endurance and efficiency. “With the wider structure of the hip, typically, they can rotate the hip, lengthen the stride,” Okobok elaborated. The longer your steps are, the cheaper they are metabolically, and the farther you go, the faster you go.

“When you look at human physiology like that, you can think of women as marathon runners and men as weightlifters.”

Archeology Tells More About ‘Woman Hunter'

some Archaeological discoveries indicates that prehistoric women not only shared injuries from the dangerous business of close contact hunting, but that it was a highly respected activity for them. “We built Neanderthal hunting as an up-close-and-personal style of hunting,” Okobok said, “which means hunters often have to get up under their prey to kill them. As such, we find that both men and women have the same injuries when we look at their fossil record. “

Okobok described these traumatic injuries as those suffered by modern rodeo clowns — head and chest injuries where they were kicked by an animal, or limbs where they were bitten or fractured. “We find these patterns and wear and tear equally in women and men,” he said. “So both were involved in ambush-style hunting of large game.”

Second, according to Okobok, there is evidence of early female hunters in Peru during the Holocene, where females were prohibited from carrying hunting weapons. “You don't often bury something if it was important to you or something you used a lot in your life.

“Furthermore, we have no reason to believe that prehistoric women abandoned hunting while pregnant, nursing, or carrying children,” Okobok added, “nor do we see any indication in the deep past that there was a strict sexual division of labor.”

The bottom line, Okobok noted, was that “hunting belonged to everyone, not just men,” especially in prehistoric societies where survival was an all-encompassing activity. “There weren't enough people living in groups to specialize in different tasks. Everyone had to be a generalist to survive.”

Fighting bias

“This finding is particularly important in the current political moment in our society, where sex and gender are at the center of attention,” Okobok said. “And I want people to be able to change the ideas of physical inferiority of women that have existed for so long.”

Speaking about reconstructing the past in order to better understand it — and conduct “good science” — Okobok said scientists must be extremely careful about how modern biases can creep into the interpretation of the past. He cautioned that researchers need to be aware of their own biases and make sure they ask the right questions so they don't lead them down the path of what they want to see.

“We need to change the biases that bring us to the table, or at least stop them before we indulge them.” And in a broader sense, you can't just assume someone's abilities based on what gender and gender you've assigned to them by looking at them,” Okobok concluded.

Contact: Tracy Destacio, Associate Director of Media Relations, 574-631-9958 or [email protected]