Huntresses and Warrioresses.
In the Stone Age women hunted and in the Dark Ages women fought battles. Balance between the sexes and equality in labour are the most natural state for humanity, the most productive and the most efficient for the survival of a society.
After the statement above, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not going to pretend to be an archaeologist or historian. I’m merely a Philosophy graduate who has a great deal of interest in history and sociology. The statement above will be supported by historical evidence, much of which will be common knowledge, and by logical argument.
In 1878 the remains of a warrior were discovered in Stockholm, Sweden (see above). Due to the fact that the grave contained an impressive array of weapons (an axe, a sword, 2 spears, several daggers and a bow and arrows) and 2 horses, the body was identified as a powerful, warlike man. It was not until 2017 that the body was genetically identified as a woman.
The bones of another Viking, or possibly Slavik, woman were found in Denmark with a war axe and also Arabic coins, suggesting that she had been involved in international raiding or trade.
The graves of 2 Viking women (alongside 4 men, with weapons and fire starting tools) were discovered in England, not far from my home.
The fact that, in the past, any skeleton found with a weapon was considered to be male (without even bothering with the simple identification method of comparing pelvis and shoulder bones) means that there are potential hundreds of other female warrior skeletons waiting to be correctly identified. On top of that, there are thousands more potentially female remains which will never be discovered because Viking warriors were traditionally cremated.
Norse and other contemporary literature also contains the history of many female Viking warriors, including Lagertha or (Ladgerda) and the infamous Freydis Eriksdottir (the murderous daughter of Erik the Red and sister to Leif Erikson).
And that is only from the medieval Norse people, there were many more ancient warrior women, notable examples being Queen Boudicca (or Boudica) or the Trung Sisters, the Elephant riding warrior ladies of Vietnam .
The reasons for the existence of female warriors are easily understood by looking at more recent history. The Soviet Red Army of The Second World War contained a huge number of female soldiers in every battlefield role. This included the tank commander Aleksandra Leontievna Boiko (See above) and Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who was one of the most successful snipers of all time with over 300 confirmed kills. The Viet Minh and Soldiers of Uncle Ho (Vietnam 1946 to 1975) also had a huge number of female soldiers, mostly serving as scouts and anti aircraft gunners.
When a nation mobilizes female soldiers it instantly doubles the available number of combatants.
The only logical reason not to make use of female soldiers is that if a large number of young females are killed then the population of the next generation will be lower. Imagine a small, primitive tribe going to war… if the majority of the tribe’s women are killed then the next generation of the tribe will be tiny, the tribe could even face extinction, however if the majority of the men are killed then the remaining men can potentially impregnate all the remaining women. Quite simply put, a woman can only have a few children per year, but a man could potentially conceive 1000 or more children per year, therefore a woman’s body is more valuable to the long term survival of the society.
However, if the society or nation is facing an immediate threat of extermination or enslavement (as in Russia and Vietnam) then the need to survive outweighs the long term threat of a reduced population in the next generation. When a nation is facing annihilation the opportunity to double its army by using female soldiers is the only reasonable response.
That is only the materialist reason. There are other obvious advantages, such as the skills which a fighter like Lyudmila Pavlichenko can bring to the table, and other reasons for women to go to war such as Mariya Vasilyevna Oktyabrskaya (a Russian tank driver) going to avenge her husband or Boudica avenging her daughters.
Going back to the Viking ladies, they too had their reasons. Scandinavia was in a state of almost constant war for 400 years and her Pagan way of life was under constant threat from Christianity. Additionally, a Viking raider could achieve levels of fame and wealth that a woman could not achieve through a peaceful life.
The idea of a ‘Hunter/Gatherer’ society in which every man was a hunter and every woman was a gatherer has always seemed ridiculous to me, it raises so many questions.
Why would such a state of affairs come about and why would it continue for so long? Why is such a ‘society’ not seen amongst our closest primate relatives? What would women do in the winter? (Or, in an Ice Age Climate, what would they do most of the time?) What about all the other tasks, (cooking, making tools, making clothes, scavenging, exploring, art, funeral rites and other rituals, child rearing, ect’) were they also dualistically divided into gender roles?
Any reasonable analysis seems to expose the ‘Hunter/Gatherers’ as an invention of the modern male mind, a fantasy where men did the ‘fun and manly’ hunting and women did all the real work. That in turn is based on the fantasy that all men are strong and aggressive and all women are weak and delicate.
Such ideas can be disproved by the most basic thought experiments. For example, imagine a fight between a professional female kickboxer and the average man on the street. Even boys in Primary school know that some of the girls in the class are stronger than some of the boys.
Compare the size and strength of a mammoth to the average human… a mammoth is so much more powerful that the difference in strength between a champion bodybuilder and a jockey would be irrelevant- the mammoth is just so much bigger, therefore the differences between the average man and the average woman would be totally irrelevant. No amount of human muscle or aggression would make any difference to a mammoth (or a smilodon, or a woolly rhino), hunting would have required cunning, patience and teamwork.
Finally, imagine 2 equal sized tribes. In the first tribe, the males and females hunted together, in teams made up of the most skilled hunters, during the best times of year for hunting, and together they gathered fruits as those fruits came into season. In the second tribe, only the men hunted and spent most of their lives waiting around idly for something to kill, meanwhile the women only gathered fruits and roots and so had nothing to do for most of the winter and spring. Which tribe would be more productive, which would starve?
Of course, it is an oversimplification, but I hope it illustrates how inefficient gender assigned roles would be.
This takes us back to a point about warfare, where women are more valuable for childbearing. Maybe women had to stay at home and avoid the dangers of hunting because their bodies were too valuable. Maybe during times of plenty, but not in a frozen winter- during the Ice Age it would have been all hands on deck to get some meat in before everyone starved, better to risk a smaller next generation in future than to risk the entire society starving immediately. Additionally, it seems likely that the possibility of death from exposure, disease or predatory animals would have rendered the risks of hunting negligible.
In the modern world there are in fact still tribes where hunting is mostly carried out by men. However, their existence only further supports my point. Firstly, they only exist in very warm climates with an abundance of game to hunt. The conditions in which they live are far less dangerous than our early ancestors, and they are not totally isolated- they have been exposed, even if only occasionally, to more technologically advanced cultures for thousands of years. Secondly, they are not flourishing, they represent about 0.005% of the human population and are in constant danger of extinction.
The existence of male dominated hunter societies in the contemporary world suggest 2 possibilities. Firstly, that male dominated hunting has crippled their society to the point where they cannot advance and barely survive. Secondly, that they represent a regression, a step backwards from a more balanced society. Because of exposure to foreign cultures, or because of some unknowable, catastrophic event in their history (perhaps a plague or the rise of a cult,) they ‘devolved’ from a gender balanced and more technologically advanced society to a primitive, male dominant society.
When a 9000 year old human skeleton was found in the Andes, with 20 stone arrowheads/spear tips and several stone blades, it was assumed to be male. However, a closer inspection of the bones showed it to be female. This discovery caused the archaeologists, from the University of Arizona, to re-examine other ‘hunter’ remains which they had found in the Americas. They found that 10 ‘hunters’ who had been presumed to be male ( because they were buried with weapons) were in fact female.
11 more female remains were found in Peru with stone weapons and stone butcher’s tools.
As with the Viking skeletons, any human remains found with weapons were, until recently, automatically identified as male.
This is the exact opposite of the true scientific method. Prehistoric hunters are not historically considered to be male because archaeologists had predominantly found the remains of male hunters. Instead, archaeologists classified hunters as male because history said that they should be male.
The theory dictates the evidence instead of the evidence dictating the theory. The stereotype is not supported by evidence, but rather the evidence is falsely classified to fit the stereotype.
For most of the existence of archaeology, the archaeologists have classified the gender of skeletons based on the grave goods not the skeleton itself.
It surely follows that the museums of the world contain hundreds, if not thousands of female hunters and warriors who have been falsely identified as male.
Fortunately, this state of affairs is improving rapidly.
The main point which I would like to conclude with is that neither historical fact nor reality should be dominated by fantasy and stereotypes.
Archaeological evidence should not be manipulated to fit with false stereotypes and sexist fantasies. The bones of dead women should not be falsely classified as male, and dead heroines should not be erased from history.
More importantly, the ridiculous and outdated stereotype of women being weak and defenceless is long overdue for being removed from the social consciousness.
If a person, or a gender, or a society, is told that it is weak, and has always been weak, then it will find it very hard to be strong. A person who is fed false information will develop false ideas and live falsely.
If history promotes true, balanced and reasonable information it will help to create truer, more balanced and more reasonable people.