alt= Marylène Patou-Mathis Photography

Marylène Patou-Mathis: A new discovery has been made.

A History of Invisible Women

From the book, “Prehistoric Man Is Also a Woman“, By Marylène Patou-Mathis.

There is an image that has been repeated to us so many times that we have ended up believing it. A cave, with a woman taking care of the fire and the children, and a man with muscular arms holding a spear and going out hunting.

But there is no scientific evidence to support this version, according to Marylène Patou-Mathis (Paris, 1955).

Through prejudice disclosed largely by cinema and popular culture, behind everything there is a question of visibility of women. Goes back to the ideas of the 19th century when the cultural norm of the time was that of the elitist white man. The first prehistorians do not appear until approximately 1950, so it’s important to keep this in mind, because for a long time only men studied prehistory.

Whether one realises it or not, seeing the world primarily from the male point of view is the mindset that has shaped our perception of past societies.

Taken almost as scientific evidence, this way of referring to prehistoric populations seems to serve a naturalistic view of society that justifies the domination of certain species over others by the nature of their biological traits, in this case, the domination of men over women.

alt= Animation Illustration representing prehistoric populations,  inspired by Marylène Patou-Mathis

The Hunting Woman

In 2018, archaeologist Randall Haas and his research team discovered an individual that was laid to rest in the Andes mountains of Peru roughly 9000 years ago, buried alongside the bones was an impressive set of tools that were known to be used for big game hunting.

The researchers automatically assumed the body to be biologically male but upon further analysis, specifically from a protein that forms on the tooth enamel they discovered the body to be female.

Thus challenging the assumption of gender roles in early hunter gathering societies and it leads us to believe that tasks were not measured out by sex but by the capacity and capability of each individual.

For many years it has been believed that in prehistoric hunter gatherer societies it was the males doing the hunting and the females would forage, perhaps fish and look after the children.

But a new discovery has been made that challenges that very belief and suggests that women were almost equally hunting alongside men.

Women in prehistory didn’t spend the day sweeping the cave.

The study then led to Haas and his team going back to review reports of past excavations and what they found is that plenty of other evidence for this theory has been lying in plain sight.

Even when they excluded the most uncertain cases, amongst the 27 skeletons that were found of which were buried with hunting tools and biological sex could be determind, 41% were female.

In the nineteenth century the idea of prehistory was developed by men, who then projected the stereotypes of their own era into the tellings of prehistoric time. The idea of the division of labour in prehistory could in some ways explain why the sexist inequalities in past and current times are believed to be a natural way of life.

Marylin Patou Mathis, the prehistorian and research director of the French National Center for Scientific Research explains in Prehistoric man is also a woman, in her book “Prehistoric men were women too”. The invisibility of women in prehistory” How that argument has been used for way too long making women believe they were only capable of performing certain tasks for which they were genetically predisposed.

We have inherited a gendered and patriarchal view on prehistory and it begs the question of if we step back from our own gender biases, what will it enable us to discover about our past as humans?

The tasks were not distributed by gender, but by the capacities of each individual.

Women throughout history and to this day have always been undermined and our abilities underestimated and when challenging people regarding a woman’s place in society, a favourable argument is that it comes from our ancestors.

“The men did the hunting and the women looked after the children”. We have attributed hunting or art to men, activities that according to our current point of view have more prestige, while we consider the tasks that women did, such as childcare or gathering, less important.

But with the growth that gender archaeology has had in the past decade, prehistoric women are finally getting the correct limelight and story that they deserve, which is the truth.


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