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

Where are the women warriors? Evidence for Gender Equality on the Mongolian Steppe (209 BC-840 AD)


Anthropology, California State University, Los Angeles

April 17, 2020 , Diamond 10 Add to calendar

This study looked for evidence of women warriors among the nomadic pastoralists of ancient Mongolia. Twenty-nine elite burials (16 males, 10 females, 3 indeterminate) were analyzed. These were divided into three time periods, Xiongnu (209 BC-93 AD), Xianbei (147-552 AD), and Turkic (552-840 AD). Potential warriors were defined through evidence of prolonged horseback riding, archery, and trauma patterns. Skeletal elements were observed for arthritis, musculoskeletal markers (scapula, clavicle, humerus, ulna, pelvis, femur, tibia), Schmorl’s nodes, and trauma. Males (83-100%), females (33-100%), and adolescents (100%) exhibit evidence for horseback riding through all time periods. Males appear to be practicing archery through all time periods (80-100%). Women’s participation in archery is more varied (50-100%). Trauma percentages for males and females increase from the Xiongnu to Xianbei Periods. Male trauma percentages (60-83%) were consistently higher than females (0-33%). All of the trauma appears to be accidental and related to horseback riding. Half of the women in the Xiongnu Period participated in horseback riding and archery. Xianbei Period women appear to be the most martial and mobile. Turkic Period women were the most sedentary and secluded. So, the Xianbei Period has the best evidence for potential warrior women. This time period is associated with the Ballad of Mulan and was characterized by political fragmentation and unrest. It may have been that women were needed to defend home and country alongside the men.