Unearthed Ancient Female Hunter with Weapons Defies Expectations

excavation of 9,000-year-old remains helps to disprove belief of women as gatherers

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Ancient remains of a female hunter fly in the face of “hunter-gatherer” gender roles, Live Science reported. The woman, found in Peru, had been buried with her weapons 9,000 years ago, and she was no anomaly. The Trung Sisters of Vietnam broke stereotypes long ago, too.

Trung Sisters illustration
The elder Trung sister, Trung Trac, and the younger sister, Trung Nhi, were two of Vietnam’s most popular heroines, who lived during the first century CE when women in their society enjoyed many freedoms. Artwork by Elizabeth Witcher / Shutterstock

According to Live Science, the dichotomy of men as big game hunters and women as gatherers in ancient civilizations isn’t as clear-cut as was once believed. “A recently discovered 9,000-year-old burial of a female hunter, and analyses of other hunter burials, suggests that early hunter-gatherer women in the ancient Americas hunted big game just as much as men did,” the article said.

It explained that the burial plot was one of six and it included “a hunting toolkit with projectile points and flakes,” and that the hunter-gatherer “died between the ages of 17 and 19.”

This evidence mirrors many ancient women who were proud fighters. Another striking example is the Trung sisters, who fought the Han.

Sowing Rebellion

In the first century CE, Han-dynasty emperors from China ruled over Vietnam. Vietnamese culture had embraced women’s sovereignty and sexual freedom, but the Chinese governors imposed marriage laws and restricted women’s freedoms.

“Among the discontented were a local ruler named Thi Sach, and his wife, Trung Trac,” said Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury, Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. “Trung Trac decided it was time to throw off the Chinese yoke. She enlisted her sister, Trung Nhi, and they called together the local clan leaders and stirred them to fight.”

According to Dr. Salisbury, not only did the sisters recruit local women who had already fought in small skirmishes against the Chinese, but their own mother joined the fight and commanded troops. It’s believed that they began their rebellion in the spring of either the year 39 CE or 40 CE. Their growing army, which gathered troops from neighboring provinces, included many female generals and troops in their ranks.

“According to legend, which in this case is plausible, the sisters mounted war elephants and led the armies,” she said. “The women’s armies managed to take 65 cities, unifying the whole territory under their rule.”

The Empire Strikes Back

The emperor ruling over Vietnam at the time of the Trung sisters’ rebellion, Guangwudi, sent General Ma Yuan to retaliate in the summer of 42 CE. Due to the distance to the sisters’ capitol near Hanoi and the spring and summer monsoon season, Ma Yuan didn’t arrive for a full year.

“The Chinese were weakened and outnumbered, but the skill of the general more than made up for those weaknesses,” Dr. Salisbury said. “The discipline of the Chinese soldiers confronted chaotic charges of tribal forces, and the Vietnamese were soundly defeated. Several thousand of the Trungs’ troops were killed, and over 10,000 either surrendered or were captured.

“The sisters fled the field.”

Dr. Salisbury said that several different versions of the following events remain. However, historians have accepted that Ma Yuan spent several years catching up to the Trung sisters, who engaged Chinese forces repeatedly and each time were defeated.

“In the end, Ma Yuan managed to kill both sisters,” she said. “He chopped off their heads and had them sent back to Luoyang, to the emperor, to prove his victory.”

Vietnamese legends say that the sisters reached a dead end and drowned themselves in the name of Vietnamese independence, but Dr. Salisbury believes Ma Yuan wouldn’t have let them die in peace. Even still, the Trung sisters remain symbols of freedom for their efforts; altars built to honor them still stand to this day.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily

Dr. Joyce E. Salisbury contributed to this article. Dr. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her PhD in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.