Researchers studying an ancient burial site in South America have come to an unusual conclusion: A hunter buried there was female. The find challenges a long-held belief about prehistoric societies that relied on hunting and gathering for food: that males hunted while females gathered plants and tended to children.

While excavating a site high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, archaeologists found a grave containing 9,000-year-old human remains. It also held a set of hunting tools, including sharp objects that could be thrown at big game (hunted animals), such as a wild relative of the llama. Teeth and bone analyses revealed the person buried there was female. 

The team then looked at previously studied burial sites in the Americas from the same period. They found that of the 27 people buried with hunting tools whose sex could be determined, nearly half were female. Further research suggests that 30 to 50 percent of ancient big-game hunters may have been female.  

Some experts aren’t convinced, however. They say ancient people could have been buried with hunting tools for different reasons. But other researchers say it makes sense that prehistoric women would have hunted, as large groups of people would have been needed to bring down big game. Moreover, when ancient men are found buried with hunting tools, it’s usually assumed they were hunters. Some experts say the same assumptions should be made about women.