LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Amazons, tribes of ancient women warriors, have been the stuff of legend since the time of Homer. But a new discovery lends credence to the theory that these female fighters did exist. Archaeologists at the Russian Academy of Sciences have unearthed the remains of four women in western Russia who were buried with their arrowheads, spears and horseback-riding equipment. Adrienne Mayor is the author of "The Amazons: Lives And Legends Of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World." And she joins us now. Welcome to the program.
ADRIENNE MAYOR: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know you weren't part of the discovery team. But I imagine that it is a pretty exciting find for you.
MAYOR: This is an extremely exciting find. It really adds to the body of other archeological evidence that we have for the real existence of flesh and blood warrior women at the time that the Greeks were telling myths about Amazons.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you have any details about what was found at the site?
MAYOR: Yes. They found four women buried with weapons and horse equipment. And what's amazing is that they represent three generations. So the oldest woman was about 45 to 50 years old - and then a very young warrior woman, who was between 12 and 13 years old. So that's the astounding part of this discovery because it shows that women of all ages were active warriors and participated in battle alongside the men and were buried with the same honors as the men.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There have been other discoveries over the years. What is the significance, in your opinion, of this one?
MAYOR: Many people had thought, in the past, that perhaps women of childbearing age or mothers or older women would not be participating in warfare. But this shows that women of childbearing age and even up into their 50s were participating in battle when necessary. It also shows that very young children were trained to ride horses and shoot bows and arrows and wield other weapons exactly like the boys and men. And, in fact, these peoples invented the recurve bow, which packs a lot of power in a small bow, which means that it equalizes the strength differences between men and women. So you put a woman who's trained with a bow and arrow on a horse, she can be just as fast, just as deadly as a man.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Did we know about this particular group? Because I understand that they identified as Scythian - or central Eurasian nomads.
MAYOR: They're in Eurasia. Most of the graves, so far, have been found around the northern part of the Black Sea, Ukraine, southern Russia. So we have about 300 graves that contain female skeletons who were buried with quivers full of arrows, battle axes, spears and horse gear and even sacrificed horses. So we know that genuine warrior women really existed at this time and in the places that were reported by the ancient Greeks to be the heartland of the Amazons.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When did these women exist?
MAYOR: Homer first wrote about the Amazons about 2,700 years ago. That is when they were flourishing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Homer wasn't making these things up in the "Iliad" after all.
MAYOR: Absolutely not. And one of the most interesting things is that the ancient writers - from Herodotus and Plato - they believed that Amazons really existed. I think it's most interesting that of all people, Plato, a philosopher that you would not expect to be talking about Amazons, actually wrote in his laws and the dialogue that we now know for certain that there are countless numbers of women around the Black Sea who ride horses and shoot bows and arrows, just like the men. And he actually argues that any state that doesn't take advantage of women's participation in warfare would be stupid because they're developing only half their potential.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Wonder Woman is real.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's my takeaway.
MAYOR: You know, there is - that's interesting because she's famous for using a lasso. I actually discovered, in a very obscure museum, a face painting that shows an Amazon on horseback using a lasso against Greek warriors. So even Wonder Woman's weapon goes all the way back to antiquity.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Adrienne Mayor, a classic scholar at Stanford University. Thank you so much.
MAYOR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.