The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Women Warriors among Central California Hunter-Gatherers


1Anthropology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, 2Millennia Archaeological Consulting, Sacramento, CA, 3Social Sciences, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA

April 17, 2020 , Diamond 10 Add to calendar

Archaeological studies often assume immutable gender roles within hunter-gatherer societies, which can trivialize the role of women within society. Generally, women are assumed to be gatherers with limited roles in warfare and hunting. This study explores the role of women in violent behaviors as evidenced in bioarchaeological and ethnographic records from central California. Osteological data were retrieved from the Central California Bioarchaeological Database (n>18,000) that spans 3050 BC to AD 1899. A sub-set of males (n=289) and females (n=128) with only sharp force trauma were investigated to identify sex-based patterns of experienced trauma. Additionally, ethnographic records were investigated to identify mention of warfare, which was further subdivided by tribe, sex, the type of activity, and the equipment (i.e., weapon) used.

Bioarchaeological data indicate that males experienced a slightly higher prevalence of sharp force trauma than females. However, the patterns of trauma are very similar between males and females. Postcranial elements affected are analogous, with humeri and vertebrae showing the highest incidences in both sexes. The timing of injury is also comparable between males (87.03%, perimortem; 12.97% antemortem) and females (81.34%, perimortem; 18.66% antemortem). The trajectory of injury is also similar with a posterior trajectory identified in 42.62% of males and 40.54% of females. Ethnographic data support these findings as well as provide possible context for the skeletal patterns. Overall, results indicate males and females were active combatants whose experience in terms of violent behavior and sharp force trauma was very similar.