Neanderthal women very likely did hunt some or much of the smaller game we find in sites, such as tortoise, rabbits and birds – and probably accompanied by babies and children. Yet the identity of big-game hunters probably shifted according to climate, season, landscape and other factors. Some 123,000 years ago, Neanderthal women of the forest marshes dragged beavers from their lodges, while their descendants 70 millennia – and 3,000 generations – later stalked red deer through wooded uplands.
One of the most convincing reasons to believe that Neanderthal women did experience life differently is the testimony of their own bodies. Research on limb bones suggests that, while their thighs were as strong relatively as men’s, their lower legs appear less intensively used. Sample sizes are small, however the impression is of different habits in moving around, with men perhaps scaling more rough terrain.
Neanderthal life saw a growing tendency to split up activities across the landscape. While initial skin cleaning was done near kill sites and potentially by both men and women, it might be likely that the more time-consuming softening and stretching using mouths and lissoirs was happening where meaty joints and slabs of fat also ended up: family living sites.