Top headlines

Lead story

It’s always enjoyable to help debunk some conventional wisdom. Today I point you to the work of anthropologists Sarah Lacy of the University of Delaware and Cara Ocobock of the University of Notre Dame. Their recent research takes down the idea that Neanderthals and early modern humans assigned tasks based on gender. “Man the hunter” paired with “woman the gatherer” is more a reflection of the male scientists who came up with the concept and the gender roles of their own time, Lacy and Ocobock suggest, than of reality.

There’s no reason women couldn’t have contributed to the hunt – and in fact, certain aspects of female physiology mean they may well have been better suited for an activity like hunting that demands great physical endurance. Lacy and Ocobock deploy other evidence from the archaeological record that supports the idea that there was no gendered division of labor in our evolutionary past. “Our Paleolithic ancestors lived in a world where everyone in the band pulled their own weight, performing multiple tasks,” they write.

[ Get our Understanding AI series – four emails delivered over the course of a week, with experts explaining this confusing topic. ]

Maggie Villiger

Senior Science + Technology Editor

In small-group, subsistence living, it makes sense for everyone to do lots of jobs. gorodenkoff/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Forget ‘Man the Hunter’ – physiological and archaeological evidence rewrites assumptions about a gendered division of labor in prehistoric times

Sarah Lacy, University of Delaware; Cara Ocobock, University of Notre Dame

Female bodies have an advantage in endurance ability that means Paleolithic women likely hunted game, not just gathered plants. The story is written in living and ancient human bodies.

Science + Technology

Politics + Society

Economy + Business

Ethics + Religion

Podcast 🎙️

Trending on site

The Conversation Quiz 🧠

  • Here’s the first question of this week’s edition:

    What did new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson say to Americans while discussing the House GOP's efforts to avert a federal shutdown on Nov. 18?

    1. A. Shanghai
    2. B. San Francisco
    3. C. Singapore
    4. D. A Steak 'n Shake in Sandusky, Ohio

    Test your knowledge