The Eagle Huntress: Ancient Traditions, and Evidence for Women as Eagle Hunters – Part I

The Eagle Huntress: Ancient Traditions, and Evidence for Women as Eagle Hunters – Part I

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Evidence that Nomad Women Hunted with Eagles since Antiquity

"A fast horse and a soaring eagle are the wings of a nomad." --Kazakh proverb

Falconry, training raptors to hunt for game, is particularly suited to vast grasslands especially in combination with horses and dogs. Classical Greek and Roman authors Ctesias, Aristotle, Pliny, and Aelian described falconry, and in about AD 1270 Marco Polo detailed how the nomads of Central Asia hunted on horseback with small falcons, hawks, and eagles.

FIG 1.1. Kazakh eagle hunter (Shutterstock)

The Powerful Golden Eagle

For thousands of years, golden eagles have been the favorite raptor to train as a hunting companion across the northern steppes from the Caucasus to China. Eagles are strong predators especially adapted to winter hunting for hare, marmot, deer, fox, and even lynx and wolf, in snow-covered grasslands and mountain crags. Female eagles, larger, fiercer, and more powerful than males, are preferred. Fledglings or sub-adult eagles are captured and trained to hunt. After about 10 years they are released to the wild to mate and raise young.

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Evidence pointing to eagle hunting's antiquity comes from Scythian and other burial mounds of nomads who roamed the steppes 3,000 years ago and whose artifacts abound in eagle imagery. An ancient Scythian nomad skeleton buried with an eagle was reportedly excavated near Aktobe Gorge, Kazakhstan. Ancient petroglyphs in the Altai region depict eagle hunters and inscribed Chinese stone reliefs show eagles perched on the arms of hunters in tunics, trousers, and boots, identified as northern nomads (1st to 2nd century AD). A Song Dynasty (AD 960) painting shows Khitan nomads of Manchuria practicing their ancient eagle hunting arts. Other eagle-hunting groups in the past included Jurchen, Oirat, Torghut, Kyrgyz, Kalmyk, Kirei, Altaian, Siberian, and Caucasus nomads.

FIG 1.3. Central Asian nomad eagle hunters on ancient Chinese stone reliefs

FIG 1.4. Song Dynasty Khitan eagle hunters, AD 960 (Public Domain)

Horse, Dog and Eagle

Eagle hunting lore is preserved in ancient poems of Central Asia, such as the Kyrgyz Manas epic, in which the hero's death is mourned by his horse, dog, and eagle. In ancient Caucasus legends about great heroes and heroines ( Nart Sagas ), hunters set forth on fine steeds, hounds trotting along and golden eagles on their arms: “Your horse is ready, your weapons and armor, your hounds and your eagle too.” In eagle hunting, dogs serve as beaters for the eagles.

FIG 1.5. Kazakh eagle hunters, early 1900s (Public Domain)

“Our ancestors had three comrades,” goes the old Kazakh saying, “ swift-foot, tazy , and bürkit” (fine horse, Taigan sighthound, and golden eagle). By training these three animals—horse, dog, and eagle—to be companions, the early nomads made the harsh, unforgiving steppes into a land rich with accessible game for furs and food. Today, the ancient arts of bürkitshi ( berkutchi, eagle hunters) are carried on by Kazakh nomads dispersed in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Xianjiang (northwest China). The tradition is handed down from generation to generation. One must be tough and patient to learn to hunt with such a formidable bird of prey as the golden eagle. There are nuanced, complex distinctions among capturing, domesticating, training, competing, and actually hunting with eagles.

Warrior Women

Male bürkitshi are more common than females today, although eagle hunting has always been open to interested girls. Archaeology suggests that eagle huntresses were probably more common in ancient times. Spectacular archaeological discoveries of graves (ca 700 BC to AD 300) across ancient Scythia, from Ukraine to China, reveals that steppe nomad females engaged in riding and hunting activities and about one third of the women were active warriors in battle.

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Unlike settled, patriarchal societies like classical Greece, where women stayed home to weave and mind children, the lives of nomadic steppe tribes centered on horses and archery. Men and women shared the vigorous outdoor life and everyone rode fast horses, shot arrows with deadly accuracy, hunted game, and defended the tribe. The combination of horse riding and archery was the equalizer: a woman on horseback is as fast and agile as a man. This ancient way of life—embracing gender equality—was essential for tribes migrating across oceans of grass, and egalitarian traditions persist in their descendants today.

Archaeological Finds

Remarkable archaeological evidence of a female bürkitshi in antiquity emerged among the famous Urumqi mummies preserved for more than two millennia in the extremely dry Tarim Basin (Xinjiang). The tall, lavishly dressed bodies of men, women, and children were naturally mummified in the arrid desert sand, buried with horse gear, clothing, weapons, and other possessions. One woman wears a sheepskin coat over a colorful woolen skirt; on her left hand and forearm is a heavy leather falconry mitten. The exceptional size and thickness matches the distinctive bialeye, protective mitt, worn by eagle hunters in the same region today. Eagles weigh up to 12 pounds and have a very strong grip. To support the eagle on the rider's arm, a baldak, a Y-shaped wooden rest, is attached to the saddle.

FIG 1.6. Mummified eagle huntress with leather eagle-hunting mitt, Tarim Basin, 4th-3rd century BC, Urumqi Museum. (Courtesy of Victor Mair)

Another piece of archaeological evidence for eagle hunting by women in antiquity came to light only recently, on an ancient golden ring (Greek, 425 BC) in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. The full significance of the scene eluded understanding until now. The ring shows a nomad horsewoman, her hair and cloak blowing back to indicate the speed of her galloping horse. She has the reins choked up tight, with a spear in her left hand. The deer is so finely detailed that we can tell the species--a Eurasian spotted fallow buck with broad palmate antlers. Her dog is a Taigan sighthound like those used today by Kazakh eagle hunters.

Art historians had assumed the large bird was a random decoration. But in 2014, in The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, I identified this naturalistic scene as the earliest known image of a female eagle hunter. The bird hovering above the deer’s head is an eagle with hooked beak and spread wings and tail, about to attack the deer. The ring is compelling evidence that ancient Greek travelers, who first encountered steppe tribes in about 700 BC, had heard about or even observed nomadic horsewomen of eastern lands hunting with trained eagles and sighthounds.

FIG 1.7. Gold ring with scene of ancient eagle huntress, 425 BC, Boston Museum of Fine Art, (Painting by Michele Angel)

In addition to artistic and archaeological evidence, an intriguing hint that women might have been more involved in eagle hunting in the past is embedded in a persistent folk belief. Kazakhs traditionally associate bürkitshi with fertility and childbirth.

Today about 250 eagle hunters and a handful of young eagle huntresses are keeping the ancient tradition alive.

(Click here for Part 2, The Eagle Huntress: New Generations )

Adrienne Mayor , Research Scholar in Classics and History of Science, Stanford University, is the author of The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World (2014), and The Poison King: Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy , nonfiction finalist for the 2009 National Book Award.

Featured image: FIG 1.2. Tuva monument, mounted nomad archeress and falconer (Public Domain)

‘The Eagle Huntress’ Review: Crowd-Pleasing Documentary Brings Feminism to Unexpected Arena

Chances are strong that the vast majority of viewers who take in Otto Bell’s crowd-pleasing documentary “The Eagle Huntress” will approach the material with little, if any, knowledge of its subject: the time-honored Eurasian falconry tradition of eagle-hunting. That’s about to change in a big way. Featuring a story so readymade for the big screen &mdash and, yes, Fox has already optioned the film for an animated version &mdash that it feels almost unbelievable, Bell’s feature directorial debut is bolstered immeasurably by a captivating leading (little) lady and a story that transcends time and location. Aided by smart and simple narration from Daisy Ridley, the result is an all-ages outing about tradition, respect, family and, yes, the power of feminism to positively change lives.

Bell’s film follows 13-year-old Aisholpan, a Kazakh kid with one main aspiration &mdash to be an eagle huntress. It may sound like a simple enough request, but Aisholpan’s big dream (alongside another desire to become a doctor) isn’t a common one. In fact, she’d be the very first of her kind, at least in her eagle-hunting-crazed region. Aisholpan comes from a well-regarded and deeply respected line of eagle hunters &mdash all men, naturally &mdash and has spent her entire life aspiring to join their ranks, fueled primarily by her glowing respect for the birds and her obvious admiration for her accomplished hunter father. Luckily for Aisholpan, her immediate family is very supportive of her choice, though they may be the only ones.

The film treats viewers to the full scope of a hunter’s relationship with their feathered partners it opens with an older hunter engaging in a ceremony that delivers his eagle back to the wild after seven years together, a tradition of the culture, and the film eventually shows scenes of training, bonding and even baby eaglet capturing — and it also pays close attention to the sexism that has long dominated the sport. Although Aisholpan’s family are strong supporters of her dreams in particular and feminism and equality at large, Bell makes it plain that they are outliers in the culture, at least as it applies to eagle hunting. Utilizing a coterie of elder eagle hunters to provide commentary that essentially boils down to “this sport is not for girls, they are weak,” Bell frequently cuts back to them to weigh in on the tremendous strides the young huntress is making. They’re not having it.

Alma Dalaykan, Nurgaiv Rys, Aisholpan Nurgaiv and director Otto Bell

“It is not a choice, it is a calling,” one of the film’s subjects tells us early on, and Aisholpan’s steely determination prove that to be true at every turn. Mostly unbothered by the naysayers &mdash at least until she meets them face to face &mdash Aisholpan goes about her work diligently and with nothing short of pluck. “The Eagle Huntress” could happily operate as some kind of superhero origin story, though it would be one marked a series of essential lessons, rather than high-octane action sequences or some kind of storyline involving radioactive spiders or strong men from space.

Aisholpan is a heroine &mdash a real one &mdash because she engages in hard work in order to accomplish her goals, typically without anything even remotely resembling a complaint. It’s that kind of can-do spirit that often robs the film of big drama, making her quest look a touch too easy, until of course she does something like retrieve her frozen-stiff laundry from a snowy stone wall or get perfect grades while far from home at boarding school or catch a nearly full-grown eaglet (a girl, too, of course) on her own after shimmying down a cliff to do, suddenly reminding her audience just how extraordinary she is. She’s smart and she’s strong, and that’s actually enough for her to overcome tremendous odds. We should be so lucky to have more films with such a message.

Bell backloads his film with the cinematic drama, including a long-teased eagle hunting festival whose existence and import are literally televised over the radio. It’s there that Aisholpan meets her foes, in the form of a laughing, leering crowd that only sees her as a “little girl,” hardly a competitor worth noticing. But Aisholpan, as is her wont, is noticed, and for all the right reasons. Later, Bell turns his eye &mdash and cinematographer Simon Niblett’s camera, often bolstered by stunning drone-captured footage &mdash on a harder challenge: Hunting in the wild. It’s there that Aisholpan’s mettle is really tested, and she and her flourishing eaglet take flight in ways that are emotionally and visually rewarding in equal measure.

A soaring, sweet documentary that welcomes its audience into an unexpected new arena, “The Eagle Huntress” offers up a movie-perfect story with a leading lady who has something to share with everyone. And its central message &mdash that, in the words of the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” theme song, females are strong as hell &mdash is one that should be carried on wings around the world.

Grade: B+

“The Eagle Huntress” is in theaters on Wednesday, November 2.

Press Releases


(February 1, 2016) Sundance hit film THE EAGLE HUNTRESS - A FILM BY OTTO BELL has come to rest at Sony Pictures Classics (SPC). A distribution deal was announced today by the film's producers with SPC acquiring distribution rights in North America, Latin America, Germany, Australia/New Zealand, Scandinavia and Asia.

Directed by Otto Bell, and Executive Produced by Academy® Award-nominated director/producer Morgan Spurlock and actress Daisy Ridley ("Star Wars: The Force Awakens"), THE EAGLE HUNTRESS is the spellbinding true story of Aisholpan, a 13-year old Mongolian girl who is striving to become the first female Eagle Hunter in the 2,000 years of male dominated history.

Aisholpan is a real life role model on an epic journey to win victory in a faraway land. Under the tutelage and support of her father and her grandfather, she learns all aspects of this ancient tradition, including taming her very own eaglet and training for the annual Golden Eagle Festival, which involves competing against 70 male Eagle Hunters. She even dreams of hunting in the frozen winters to prove that a girl can do anything a boy can, so long as she's determined.

The film is set amongst the magical Altai Mountains of Northwestern Mongolia - the most remote part of the least populated country on Earth. This little known world is rich in exquisitely preserved tradition, yet spoiled by an ignorance that is perpetuated by this isolation. For far too long, women have been seen as "too fragile" to hunt with an eagle. Aisholpan is out to prove them wrong and change history.

"Without question Sony Pictures Classics is the dream distributor for our film," stated director Bell. "Now audiences around the world can enjoy Aisholpan's story on the big screen. We are all very grateful for SPC's passionate belief in this film."

"This is a spectacular, one of a kind movie. This young girl's true story about her amazing skills with eagles is told in a fresh and exciting way. It will inspire audiences of all ages," said Sony Pictures Classics.

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS had its world premiere last week at the 2016 Sundance to standing ovations and sold out screenings. Aisholpan, together with her father and mother, made the over 6000-mile journey from Mongolia to Park City, Utah to present the film and participate in discussions.

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS is the first feature documentary from director Otto Bell and is produced by Stacey Reiss and Sharon Chang. Daisy Ridley, Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Marc H. Simon, Dan Cogan, Regina K. Scully, Barbara Dobkin and Susan Maclaury are executive producers in association with Artemis Rising Foundation, Impact Partners, Shine Global and Warrior Poets. The film is edited by Pierre Takal and director of photography is Simon Niblett with the film's theme song written and sung by internationally renowned singer/songwriter SIA.

Michael Barker and Tom Bernard serve as co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics—an autonomous division of Sony Pictures Entertainment they founded with Marcie Bloom in January 1992, which distributes, produces, and acquires independent films from around the world. Barker and Bernard have released prestigious films that have won 32 Academy Awards® (28 of those at Sony Pictures Classics) and have garnered 158 Academy Award&REG nominations (133 at Sony Pictures Classics) including Best Picture nominations for WHIPLASH, AMOUR, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, AN EDUCATION, CAPOTE, HOWARDS END, AND CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON.

Carmelo Pirrone
Executive Vice President, MARKETING
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The Eagle Huntress… พรานอินทรีหญิงแห่งมองโกเลีย

ในปี 2018 ที่ผ่านมา ทาง Documentary Club ได้นำเอาสารคดี The Eagle Huntress จากฝีมือของผู้กำกับ Otto Bell ซึ่งเป็นเรื่องของไอโชลปาน นาเกอีฟ (Aisholpan Nagaiv) เด็กสาวชนเผ่าคาซักแห่งมองโกเลียที่เป็นผู้หญิงเพียงหนึ่งเดียวที่เข้าร่วมแข่งขันการล่าสัตว์ด้วยนกอินทรีท่ามกลางบรรดาพรานอินทรีผู้ชายมาฉายในไทย และเป็นหนังที่สร้างแรงบันดาลใดให้ใครหลายคนได้มากมาย

ในต่างประเทศ แม้ The Eagle Huntress จะได้รับการยอมรับและได้รับเสียงชื่นชมจากผู้ชมจำนวนมาก แต่ก็มีคนตั้งข้อสงสัยว่า “ไอโชปานเป็นผู้หญิง ‘คนแรก’ ที่ได้รับการฝึกขี่ม้าล่าสัตว์ด้วยนกอินทรีในรอบสองพันปีจริงหรือ” และมีผู้ที่ได้ข้อมูลว่า ถึงเธอจะเป็นผู้หญิงคนแรกในครอบครัวสิบสองรุ่นที่ได้รับการสืบทอดวิชาการเป็นพรานอินทรีบนหลังม้า แต่ก่อนหน้านั้นก็เคยมีผู้หญิงที่เป็นพรานอินทรีมานานแล้ว จากการค้นคว้าของเอเดรียนน์ เมเยอร์ (Adrienne Mayor) นักประวัติศาสตร์ พบว่ามีพรานอินทรีที่เป็นผู้หญิงปรากฎอยู่ในประวัติศาสตร์ของชนเช่าคาซักซึ่งเป็นชนเผ่าเร่ร่อนในมองโกเลียมาก่อน และมีด้วยกันหลายคน ดังนั้นการให้ข้อมูลว่า ไอโชปานเป็นผู้หญิงคนแรกอาจทำให้เข้าใจผิดได้

จากบทความของเมเยอร์ คือ “The Eagle Huntress: Ancient Traditions, and Evidence for Women as Eagle Hunters” (พรานอินทรีหญิง: ประเพณีเก่าแก่และหลักฐานที่แสดงให้เห็นว่าผู้หญิงเป็นพรานอินทรีได้) ผู้หญิงเผ่าคาซักในสมัยก่อนเป็นทั้งนักรบและพรานอินทรี และในอดีต ผู้หญิงเป็นพรานอินทรีกันเป็นเรื่องปกติ เมื่อเทียบกับในปัจจุบันที่การล่าสัตว์บนหลังม้าโดยใช้นกอินทรีเป็นกีฬาของผู้ชายเป็นหลัก โดยหลักฐานทางโบราณคดีจากการขุดค้นสุสานโบราณในบริเวณที่ราบสเต็ปป์แสดงให้เห็นว่าผู้หญิงมีส่วนร่วมในการรบและล่าสัตว์ นอกจากนี้ ยังมีการค้นพบมัมมี่โบราณของผู้หญิงที่สวมถุงมือหนังชนิดหนาที่ใช้กันในกลุ่มของพรานที่ฝึกนกอินทรีเป็นเครื่องมือในการล่าสัตว์ด้วย

ในวัฒนธรรมชนเผ่าคาซัก ผู้หญิงมีสิทธิเท่าเทียมทางการศึกษา เล่นกีฬา และทำงานเช่นเดียวกับผู้ชาย โดยเด็กหญิงและเด็กชายจะเริ่มฝึกขี่ม้า ช่วยครอบครัวต้อนสัตว์ และปลูกกระโจม (ger) ตั้งแต่อายุห้าขวบ การล่าสัตว์ด้วยนกอินทรีเป็นวัฒนธรรมประเพณีที่สืบทอดกันมาในครอบครัว ไม่พบว่ามีข้อห้ามทางศาสนาหรือสังคมที่ห้ามไม่ให้ผู้หญิงเป็นพรานอินทรี ใครก็ตามที่แข็งแรงพอจะฝึกและให้นกอินทรีเกาะแขนไปพร้อมกับขี่ม้าได้ คนนั้นก็สามารถฝึกเป็นพรานอินทรีได้

ก่อนหน้าที่จะมีสารคดี The Eagle Huntress ชาวตะวันตกได้รู้จักกับพรานอินทรีหญิงชาวมองโกล คือ เนียร์กิดมา (Nirgidma) จากภาพในนิตยสาร National Geographic เมื่อปี ค.ศ. 1937 โดยในภาพนั้นเธอสวมชุดพื้นเมืองและถ่ายภาพคู่กับนกอินทรีที่ฝึกมาเพื่อการล่าสัตว์ของเธอ

การล่าสัตว์ด้วยนกอินทรีสร่างซาไปช่วงหนึ่งระหว่างช่วงสงครามและช่วงที่โซเวียตรุกราน กระทั่งทศวรรษที่ 1990 จึงมีการรื้อฟื้นขึ้นมาอีกครั้ง โดยมีการแข่งขันประจำปีในหลายประเทศ เช่น คาซักสถาน คีร์กิซสถาน และมองโกเลีย

ในการแข่งขันขี่ม้าและใช้นกอินทรีล่าสัตว์เมื่อปี ค.ศ. 2009 มีพรานอินทรีหญิงเข้าร่วมแข่งขันด้วย คือ มักปาล อับดราซาโควา (Makpal Abdrazakova) ซึ่งปัจจุบันมีอาชีพเป็นทนายความ เธอเข้าร่วมการแข่งขันทั้งในปี 2010 และ 2011 ด้วย มักปาลเคยช่วยพ่อขอเธอฝึกนกอินทรีและได้ฝึกนกอินทรีของตัวเอง เธอได้รับการยอมรับจากผู้อาวุโสชนเผ่าคาซักและได้รับคำอวยพรในการเข้าแข่งขันจากพวกเขาด้วย เพราะคนรุ่นเก่ายังคงจำได้ว่า มีผู้หญิงที่ขี่ม้าและใช้สุนัขกับนกอินทรีในการล่าสัตว์

ไม่เพียงแต่คนในเผ่าคาซักด้วยกันเท่านั้น พรานอินทรีชาวคาซักยังสอนผู้หญิงต่างชาติให้เป็นพรานอินทรีอีกด้วย ลอเรน แมคกัฟ (Lauren McGough) เป็นหญิงสาวชาวอเมริกันที่มาฝึกเป็นพรานอินทรีและเข้าร่วมแข่งขันในเทศกาลแข่งอินทรีประจำปีกับพรานอินทรีคนอื่น ๆ

ในบรรดาเด็กสาวรุ่นราวคราวเดียวกัน นอกจากไอโชลปานแล้ว ยังมีซามันโบล (Zamanbol) เด็กสาวอีกคนหนึ่งที่เข้าร่วมการแข่งขันด้วย เธอใช้เวลาช่วงวันหยุดนอกจากการเรียนหนังสือในการฝึกเป็นพรานอินทรี โดยวิชาการฝึกนกอินทรีนี้ส่วนหนึ่ง เธอได้รับการสืบทอดมาจากปู่ และเมื่อปู่เสียชีวิต เธอก็ได้รับเป็นนกอินทรีของปู่ที่เคยแข่งขันจนชนะมาแล้วเป็นมรดก และพี่ชายของเธอ บาร์ซาไบ (Bazarbi) ซึ่งเป็นพรานอินทรีก็ช่วยสอนเธอด้วยอีกคนหนึ่ง และยังมีไอซูลู (Aisulu) เด็กหญิงที่เริ่มฝึกการเป็นพรานอินทรีตั้งแต่อายุห้าขวบ โดยได้รับการสนับสนุนจากพ่อและแม่ รวมถึงปู่ของเธอด้วย โดยพวกเขาคาดหวังว่า เมื่อเติบโตขึ้นเธอจะสามารถเข้าร่วมการแข่งขันล่าสัตว์ด้วยนกอินทรีได้

เห็นได้ว่า มีการฝึกสอนให้ผู้หญิงเป็นพรานอินทรีมาอย่างต่อเนื่อง เพียงแต่สัดส่วนของผู้หญิงที่มาเป็นพรานอินทรีมีน้อยกว่าผู้ชายอย่างเห็นได้ชัด เมื่อมีสารคดีเกี่ยวกับไอโชลปาน สาวน้อยชาวคาซักที่เข้าร่วมและชนะการแข่งขันล่าสัตว์ด้วยนกอินทรี ทำให้บทบาทของพรานอินทรีหญิงเริ่มเป็นที่รู้จักมากขึ้น

ไม่ว่าไอโชปานจะเป็นผู้หญิงคนแรกที่เป็นพรานอินทรีหรือไม่ แต่การเข้าร่วมการแข่งขันที่มีคู่แข่งเป็นผู้ชาย ความกล้าหาญ และความตั้งใจจริงของเธอก็เป็นแรงบันดาลใจที่ดีให้ใครอีกหลายคนได้อย่างที่เธอพูดเอาไว้ใน The Eagle Huntress

Was Aisholpan already a well-known figure in the eagle hunting world when you arrived to make the film?

There are generally accepted to be only around 250 practicing eagle hunters left in the world and most of those are concentrated in Aisholpan’s corner of the Altai Mountains. So yes, word of Asher’s photos had spread by the time I arrived. That said, you could tell the community was still wrestling with how they felt about it all when we showed up with a camera. We were truly lucky to start filming while her story was still just starting to unfold.

Facts about Aishol-pan, the eagle huntress of Mongolia

The strong customs of Kazakhs has been continued for thousands of years that &ldquoWomen have to stay home and take care of children&rdquo. But Aishol-pan breaks with this custom by following her father into the mountains as he pursues foxes, the source of the meat and fur garments enabling the Kazakhs to survive the bitter winter, with his eagle companion. In 2014, Aishol-Pan-the teenage huntress participated and won the eagle hunting competition during the annual Golden Eagle Festival in Western Mongolia.

Photo credit: Batzaya Choijiljav. Mongolian photographer and traveler

Aisholpan and her eagle. Photo by Batzaya Choijiljav

Photo credit: Batzaya Choijiljav. News source: Caters News Agency

She is a new film star

The Eagle Huntress (2016) Dir. Otto Bell The Eagle Huntress is a documentary depicting the life of Aishol-pan, who is attempting to be the first woman eagle hunter in her native country of Mongolia. The movie&rsquos heartwarming tale is only furthered by the feature of Aishol-pan&rsquos father, who shares with the audience his encouragement of Aishol-pan&rsquos drive to be a part of this typically male-dominated tradition. With narration provided by Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), The Eagle Huntress, while filmed in a cold climate, will leave you feeling inspired by one girl&rsquos courageous task of breaking stereotypes placed on her by the men in her society. The film was officially opened in 28 countries.

Asher Svidensky, a photographer took her picture

Asher Svidensky, a photographer and travel writer, shot five boys learning the skill as well as the girl, Ashol-Pan. "To see her with the eagle was amazing," he recalls. "She was a lot more comfortable with it, a lot more powerful with it and a lot more at ease with it."

She wants to be a doctor even she likes to play in the movie

After she was getting popular around the world, she has received many international and national university scholarships. As she says, Harvard University, London University, Astana University, and local major universities sent their invitation to study. But her thought is she wants to be a doctor even she likes to play. Her dream is to study at Harvard University.

Photo by Batzaya Choijiljav

She became Asian game changer

She was awarded Asian Game Changer in 2017 - For breaking gender barriers at a remarkably young age. She says she is happy that her story has inspired girls and women around the world. Closer to home, Aishol-pan&rsquos example is already having a benefit: A growing number of girls in her Mongolian community have sought to train as eagle hunters. She hopes that young girls &mdash wherever they live &mdash can persevere in the face of doubt, criticism, and entrenched gender norms. &ldquoThey must keep trying," she said, "and be brave.

During the Annual Golden Eagle Festival. Photo by Batzaya Choijiljav

Her lifestyle and family

According to the tradition of Mongolian and Kazakh people, they teach children life lessons through homeschooling. And the children have to study those lessons at a young age while they are helping daily work stuff. For instance, girls started to learn sewing their own clothes. Kazakh women make embroidery decoration for her home and it is so colorful and beautiful. As this tradition, Aishol-pan, do the same. She sews her own clothes and home decoration too. As a little girl in Mongolia, Aisholpan dreamt of flying an eagle like her Dad. No malls, no Shake Shacks. Nope. Just mountains, tents, gers, and goats. Aisholpan was born into a Kazakh family of nomad herders going back 12 generations. To supplement their income, Kazakh herders have a side career: training golden eagle chicks to hunt fox and game.

Photo by Batzaya Choijiljav

She also attends the annual "Spring Golden Eagle Festival"

She also attends the annual "Spring Golden Eagle Festival" , which is held at Chinggis Khaanii Khuree Complex in March. Kazakh Eagle Hunters came from Western Mongolia with their trained eagles in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, including the young eagle huntress Aishol Pan. Local Kazakhs show their eagle hunting culture and their unique traditions. It starts with the opening parade with well-dressed hunters and is about authentic competitions of eagle training skills and hunting with golden eagles. Also, there are Mongolian falconers gathered and show ancient warrior-skill performance on horseback.

During the spring golden eagle festival. Photo by Batzaya Choijiljav

The eagle huntress Aisholpan and the history of Mongolian falconry

Eagle hunting is a traditional form of falconry, widespread throughout the Eurasian steppe among nomadic peoples. It represents the most dramatic and primary relations between man and beast, which is kept well through generation to generation in the remote mountains of western Mongolia.

International audience interested in falconry among Kazakhs in Mongolian Bayan Ulgii aimag (province) has increased tremendously as a result of the post consisting images of a 13-year-old eagle huntress Aisholpan Nurgail taken by a travel documentary photographer Asher Svidensky in 2014.

Less than two years after that, the documentary film The Eagle Huntress was released for international audience, inspired specifically by photographs of Asher Svidensky. It turned out that an experienced filmmaker Otto Bell in British documentary stumbled upon Aisholpan’s images immediately after they were posted on the Internet. This is how Otto Bell once recalled his decision to make a film about the teenage huntress during an interview with a journalist of The National Geographic:

“…I happened to see Asher Svidensky’s photos of Aisholpan when they hit the Internet back in April 2014. I remember becoming struck by my first sight of this young girl perched on a mountain casting an enormous eagle into the air. Her face, the landscape, the magnificent bird. It was like a painting. I contacted Asher through Facebook and started a conversation about his photos which has already gained real momentum online. It was a kind of proof: If we could add sounds and motions, we would surely form a great documentary in our hands. So he and I jumped on a plane and set out to find Aisholpan and her family…”

The film was released worldwide by Sony Pictures Classics, and narrated by Star Wars star Daisy Ridley, premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 24, 2016 until November of the same year,.

Aisholpan’s attempt to compete as a first female eagle hunter in the annual Golden Eagle Festival in Ulgii, Mongolia was elaborated in the film The Eagle Huntress, which was shortlisted for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was also nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary and won nine prizes at several International Film Festivals. Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott, Chief Film Critique at The New York Times, called the film “a bliss out” and “a movie that expands your sense of possibility”, respectively.

That’s how a modest teenage girl from Mongolian rural province became a real movie star.

A main plot of the film follows Aisholpan learns how to train golden eagles with her father’s help, and then trains her eaglet on her own. Although she faces some disbelief and opposition because of traditional nature of the sport dominated by male, she becomes the first female competed in the annual Golden Eagle Festival. She ends up winning the competition, and her eaglet breaks a speed record in one of the events. After the competition, she made the final step to become an eagle hunter by traveling to the mountains with her father in the winter to hunt foxes, to show her endurance during harsh snow and extreme cold. After some initial misses, her eaglet hunted its prey successfully and she returned home…

Photo by Batzaya

Generally speaking, only around 300 eagle hunters are present worldwide and most of them are concentrated in Aisholpan’s corner of the Altai Mountains. Therefore, it is not surprising that the annual Golden Eagle Festival has been held in a few kilometers from Ulgii town, since 1999.

The festival takes place in every October and recognized as a cultural and adventurous attraction for local and foreign travelers and photographers. It is a platform for local Kazakh people to show their eagle hunting culture and unique traditions. It starts with the opening parade with well-dressed hunters and follows with authentic competitions of training and hunting with golden eagles. Specially trained eagles catch small stuffed animals such as foxes and hares.

By the way, Aisholpan is not the first, and hope not the last huntress in the history of falconry.

The National Geographic magazine published in the November 1932, was included the photography of the then-known Princess Nirgidma of the Torghut Mongols, who was educated both in Paris and Beijing. The princess stood next to her hooded hunting eagle at Urumchi In the photo taken by Maynard Owen Williams (he became the first foreign correspondent of The National Geographic in 1919).

Princess Nirgidma of the Torghut Mongols with her hooded hunting eagle at Urumqi. 1932. Photo by Maynard Owen Williams/The National Geographic.

Although there is no concrete evidence. researchers speculate that falconry should be dated back as far as 4000 – 6000 BC in Mongolia But scientists also argue that wide steppes and vast sand deserts are the most suitable environment to develop the art of bird hunting.

The ancestors of the Mongols have had traditions to worship, feed, and train to hunt splendid and powerful birds as an essential part of their lifestyle. So that there must be a substantial probability to conclude that it was originated in Central Asia. Moreover, they worshiped the eternal blue sky and their totem was the fearless swift falcon.

Depiction of Khitans hunting with eagles by Hugui (胡瓌, 9th/10th century)

There are almost no references about falconry in either Roman or ancient Greek sources, despite of developing trade ties with the East, Alexander the Great’s campaigns in the Middle East, Persia and India.

Only after the collapse of the Roman Empire resulted by the conquest of the Huns in the 5 th century led the emergence of kingdoms in its place, and the laws were included certain punishments on the theft of hunting birds. On the coat arms of Attila, the legendary leader of the Huns, a gyrfalcon with preys in both paws was depicted. Therefore, it can be concluded that Huns, the ancestors of the Mongols, had brought falconry to Europe.

On the coat of arms of Attila, the legendary leader of the Huns,
a gyrfalcon with prey in both paws was depicted.

After the great migration of the Huns to the West, the remnants of Para-Mongolic nomads of Khitans had dominated a vast area of Central Asia, Siberia and Northern China. There is an evidence in a Chinese painting from the times of Song Dynasty, which depicted the Khitans falconry, showing that Khitans also used birds for hunting.

William of Rubruck, who was the envoy of King Louis IX of France in the 13th century visited Kharkhorum (Karakorum) the capital of the Mongol Empire and accepted by Munkh (Mongke) Khan, wrote in his travel book: “… They have many hawks and peregrine falcons, which they all carry on their right hand…”

Another famous medieval traveler, Marco Polo, who visited the Mongol Empire during the reign of Genghis Khan’s grandson Khubilai, described the large-scale falconry as follows: “…Takes with him full 10,000 falconers and some 500 gerfalcons, besides peregrines, saker falcons, and other hawks in great numbers, and goshawks able to fly at the water-fowl…”

Apparently, the heyday of falconry worldwide has occurred during the Mongol Empire.

After the collapse of the Mongol empire and the loss of independence, all types of large-scale hunting, including falconry, were banned. Mongols continue hunting with birds only in remote and inaccessible areas, so that the traditions of falconry completely extinguished.

The Kazakhs who fled to western Mongolia at the beginning of the 20th century, due to hunger and persecution in the USSR and China, were able to maintain traditions of the eagle hunting to this day. By the way, the Kazakh ethnos was formed relatively recently, in the 15th century as a result of the mixing of some Turkic and Mongol tribes.

The Eagle Huntress

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter, and rises to the pinnacle of a tradition that has been handed down from father to son for centuries.

Set against the breathtaking expanse of the Mongolian steppe, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS features some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography ever captured in a documentary, giving this intimate tale of a young girl's quest the dramatic force of an epic narrative film.

While there are many old Kazakh eagle hunters who vehemently reject the idea of any female taking part in their ancient tradition, Aisholpan's father Nurgaiv believes that a girl can do anything a boy can, as long as she's determined.

The story begins after Aisholpan has been training with her father's eagle for many months. As every eagle can only have one master, the time has come for Aisholpan to capture an eagle of her own. Clambering down a sheer rock cliff with a rope, Aisholpan retrieves a fledgling eagle from its nest as its mother circles overhead. Her eagle will live, train, and hunt with her, until she releases it into the wild years later, so the cycle of life can continue.

After months of training her eagle with her father, Aisholpan is ready to test her abilities. She enters a renowned competition, the Golden Eagle Festival, and faces off against 70 of the greatest Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia.

The most arduous challenge is yet to come, as the rite-of-passage for every young eagle hunter is to take part in a hunt. Aisholpan must ride with her father deep into the frigid mountains and endure 40 below zero temperatures and perilous landscapes to prove she is a true eagle huntress.

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS is executive produced and narrated by STAR WARS's Daisy Ridley. Like Ridley's character "Rey," Aisholpan never doubts her ability to be as strong or brave as any boy. She recognizes no obstacles and refuses to have her ambition denied. While she practices an ancient art, Aisholpan's story is a modern and inspiring one because she represents a world where a young girl's dreams—no matter how challenging—can come true.

Directed by Otto Bell, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS is narrated by Daisy Ridley, executive produced by Ridley and Morgan Spurlock, and produced by Stacy Reiss, Sharon Chang and Otto Bell. The director of photography is Simon Niblett, the editor is Pierre Takal and the film features a stirring end credits song, "Angel by the Wings," by Sia.


THE EAGLE HUNTRESS began when director Otto Bell first laid eyes on one of the most remarkable images he had ever seen: a radiant young girl on a mountain top, joyfully casting a majestic eagle into the air.

The pictures of the girl, Aisholpan, taken by Israeli photographer Asher Svidensky, enchanted Bell, but the BBC News headline, "A 13-Year-Old Eagle Huntress in Mongolia," intrigued him even more. "It was like my senses joined up for a second," he says. "I knew that somewhere in the world this girl was out there walking around. There was a film that needed to be made about her—and I wanted to be the one to make it."

Bell was undeterred by the fact that he had never made a single feature documentary before. Up until then, he had traveled the globe making branded content short documentaries. "I'd go live with a Chilean doctor, or a Brazilian cop, or a Russian electrical worker or a Vietnamese coconut milk saleswoman," he says. "All my films were intimate portraits of everyday people." But he hungered to do something on a larger scale than his shorts. He tracked down Svidensky on Facebook, and they began to discuss the idea of a film.

As they began talking, Svidensky's photos started going viral, appearing on sites like National Geographic and Huffington Post. "I saw this as a kind of proof," says Bell. "If so many others felt as strongly about the photos as I did, then I had to be on to something." Unfortunately, it also meant that other filmmakers were also reaching out to Svidensky with proposals. While Svidensky was loyal, Bell knew he had to move quickly or risk losing his chance. So he took a leap of faith and took off for Mongolia with Svidensky and cameraman Chris Raymond.

After arriving in the nation's capital, Ulaanbataar, the three boarded a twin prop plane headed towards Ölgii, a small village in the Bayan-Ölgii province in northwest Mongolia. As Bell flew over the stunning, sparsely populated Mongolian landscape, he was struck by its otherworldly beauty. Just as he did when he first saw Svidensky's photograph of the girl on the mountain, he felt like he was looking through a window centuries into the past. "I knew that if I was going to do justice to her story, I would have to find a way to make people feel like I did at that moment," says Bell.

After landing in Ölgii, Bell and his team took a two hour ride on a rickety Soviet bus before they arrived at Aisholpan's family ger (nomadic dwelling) settled next to a mountainside in a remote area of Bayan-Ölgii. "The first time I saw Aisholpan, having flown across the world to see her, was incredible," says Bell. "They are very reserved people, so I had to keep my feelings in check, but inside I was punching the air." As they all sat down for a drink of traditional milky Kazakh tea, and began discussing ideas for the film, Aisholpan's father, Nurgaiv, said: "Me and my daughter are going to steal a balapan (young eagle) from its nest this morning. Is that the kind of thing you'd like to film?"

Nurgaiv's unexpected offer was both thrilling and scary for Bell. He knew that the potential for an extremely dramatic scene had been dropped in his lap, but he hadn't come with enough equipment to shoot it properly—Raymond's Canon C300 Mark 1 (1080p), Svidensky's DSLR, and a tiny GoPro camera, wasn't enough for the coverage a scene like this would require. He didn't even have a soundman—just a pocket Zoom digital recorder he brought along to use for interviews. He couldn't ask Aisholpan to redo her capture of the eagle—he would only get one chance.

But Bell made do. He stationed Raymond below so he could establish the vastness of the setting and show how high Aisholpan and Nurgaiv were. (Raymond was afraid of heights anyway.) He and Svidensky climbed the mountain and scaled down to the ledge where Nurgaiv was tying Aisholpan with rope. Bell attached the GoPro to the inside of Aisholpan's sweater so he could get some shots from her point of view.

Just as Aisholpan was clambering over the edge, Bell asked her to linger for a moment so that he and Svidensky could drop down to a lower ledge—with a hand from their driver—to film her trajectory from below. "Asher is a big guy," says Bell. "It was very dangerous." The two were now situated on a precarious ledge to the left of where Aisholpan was attempting to snag the eagle. "Asher didn't have a tripod, so I was just trying to get him to hold it steady," says Bell. "I was holding the Zoom up, talking in Asher's ear trying to get him to hold focus, and meanwhile we have the mother eagle circling overhead. We only had one bite of the cherry to get this."

After Aisholpan climbed back up to the top ledge, Bell and Svidensky had to ascend yet another time to capture the shot of Aisholpan and her eagle. "If it looks smooth," says Bell, "I give the credit to Pierre Takal, our editor, because it was ragtag!"

Bell had survived shooting this vital sequence, but he didn't want the rest of his film to be made in such a frenetic way. He knew that if he told Aisholpan's story merely as stripped-down cinema-verité, it would actually not evoke the unreality of what it was like to actually be there. He had to capture the epic qualities of Mongolian landscape. "It's so vast and cinematic," he says. "The only way you can get your arms around it is from the air."

The only problem with making the epic film he had in mind was that he didn't have any money—it would all be coming out of his limited savings, and maxing out his credit cards. Staffing up with a proper crew would not be possible. Even a soundman would be an extravagance, so Bell would have to carry on with his little Zoom recorder. Bell was not worried, because he knew he could achieve amazing results using inexpensive equipment. After all the years of paying crew members top rates on his shorts, he had some friends he could call on for favors.

Most important was his long-time collaborator, director of photography Simon Niblett. Not only was Niblett willing to help Bell realize his dream, he packed a self-made drone and a crane along with his camera and suitcase. A self-described nerd, Niblett has been building his own film equipment for years, all designed to be packed into small cases. He was the first person in the UK to fly a RED ONE digital camera on one of his creations. Niblett also built a thirty-foot crane, based on the idea of a ship's mast, which they were able to put into a snowboarder's bag for the filming of THE EAGLE HUNTRESS. The drones were used not only for the soaring aerial photography, but also as virtual "tripods in the sky," where they could hold rock solid on unusual angles. The crane was used for any shots involving camera moves close to people or in situations where harsh weather made it impossible for the drones to fly. The filmmakers even made an "eagle cam" from a dog's harness to create an actual birds-eye view.

Working with equipment of this nature and a full-sized 4K EPIC camera does not allow for fly-on-the-wall filmmaking. Bell and Niblett had to find the balance between making a film that was true to its subject and yet as majestic as a Hollywood blockbuster. Most of what they did was no different from what's done in nearly all documentaries. On occasion, their subjects were asked to perform actions more than once, but they were never asked to do things differently than they would otherwise. "I have watched a lot of documentary filmmakers work over the years," says Bell, "and some of them are quite shameless about how much they will ask everyday people to repeat things and again and again. I don't really have that gene, and I get very nervous and angst-ridden about that when I know they've had a long day." Bell proceeded cautiously as he built his relationship with Aisholpan and her family. "It was hard, as she's a 13-year-old girl who's chronically shy, and I didn't speak the language," says Bell. "I concentrated on my relationship with her mom and dad first, to get them comfortable. They are very reserved and stoic people, so I had to respect that as I approached them. It took awhile, but over time she and I really built a friendship." Filmmaker Martina Radwan stayed with Aisholpan and her family for two weeks, and captured many of the "day in the life" moments in the film like scenes of Aisholpan at school, the family eating dinner, and ice-skating with her friends. "We wanted to give the audience a window into the everyday life of Aisholpan," says Bell.

Bell shot his interviews with the Kazakh eagle hunter elders during his first trip to Mongolia in the village of Sagsai, where many of them live. Finding his interview subjects by literally going door to door, he asked them more general questions about eagle hunting before bringing the conversation around to female eagle hunters, eliciting the patronizing remarks heard in the film—that women are "too fragile" or "not brave enough" to hunt with a Golden Eagle.

Living in remote places and devoting their lives to a centuries-old tradition, the octogenarian eagle hunter elders represent the most reactionary ideas about women's roles among Kazakhs and in Mongolia in general. Still, as Aisholpan's parents' support for her dream attests, there is a wide spectrum of Kazakh views. "There is no gender discrimination when it comes to hunting with eagles," says Nurgaiv. "Anyone who is capable of hunting with an eagle is allowed to do so. Aisholpan is a very brave girl. She rides horses, climbs rocks and hunts with eagles easily, like a boy. I am very proud of her." Says Aisholpan: "Girls and boys are just as strong: if a boy can do something, girls can do it as well."

At the same time, there is a long history of patriarchal ideas and customs among Kazakhs, many of which exist today in the average ger. As scholar Dennis Keen has pointed out: "Household labor is rigidly split between men and women. Men herd cattle, take care of finances, and have a greater luxury of recreation and hunting women herd children, take care of guests, and when free, sew or shop." The left side of the ger is the domain of women the right for men. It's easy to see why the old eagle hunters would reflexively object to the idea of a girl hunting eagles, even though there is no set rule against it.

Aisholpan's desire to become an eagle huntress was not a sudden impetuous request. "I was ten years old when I decided I wanted to be an eagle huntress," says Aisholpan. Says Bell: "If there was an American girl who suddenly said, ‘Dad, I want to be a bull rider!' we might wonder where that came from," says Bell. "But if she'd been standing at the paddock every day for the last thirteen years looking at the bulls, you might say, ‘I knew this day would come.'"

While Aisholpan is not the first modern Kazakh eagle huntress—Makpal Abdrazakova, a lawyer from Kazakhstan preceded her—she is the first Mongolian female to compete at the Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii and win, defeating 70 veteran eagle hunters. But Aisholpan's win was particularly spectacular—a record setter. A terrific time for an eagle to swoop down from a mountaintop and land on its master's arm is 30 seconds. In many cases the birds simply fly away. Aisholpan's eagle flew to her arm in five seconds, the fastest recorded time to date.

After Aisholpan's triumph, Bell returned to Sagsai to find out how the eagle hunter elders would respond to her defeating so many of them. Unsurprisingly, they dismissed her victory, and maintained that for Aisholpan to prove that she is a real eagle huntress, she would have to successfully hunt a fox with her eagle.

While Aisholpan's victory would provide a stirring conclusion for the movie, Bell knew that he had to come back and film the hunt. Unfortunately, he had run out of money. "I knew we had to get back somehow for the winter hunt," says Bell. "I couldn't leave the family in the lurch, with such an important story to tell."

Bell put together a ten-minute teaser trailer and sent it to famed director/producer Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME). "I was blown away," says Spurlock. "It looked incredible, and Aisholpan's story is one of the most empowering stories I think you could ever hear." Spurlock helped Bell find financing, gave him access to equipment, and he brought in veteran producer Stacey Reiss to guide the film through its two remaining shoots and post-production.

With financing secured, Bell returned to Mongolia with the largest crew he had to date—four people, including a soundman, Andrew Yarme—to shoot the hunt scenes. Although the hunt looks like it takes place during one day, it actually took 22 days to film, as it was impossible for the crew to say out in the -40 weather for more than a few hours at a time. To make matters worse, Bell broke his arm shortly before he left and had to cope with the bitter cold while wearing a cast. "We dress warm for hunting," says Aisholpan, "but it was not easy." Says Bell: "I bet the people making THE REVENANT had warm blankets. We did not. We had to light fires underneath the engine block of our van in order to get it to turn over. Our hands stuck to the tripods and everything metal. We were looking for wild foxes in the middle of the tundra, and Aisholpan's eagle was sometimes too frozen to fly aggressively."

The filmmakers were experiencing the arduous reality of eagle hunting—something that few people can endure or quite frankly, would want to endure. This is why Aisholpan's desire and ability to do it is so extraordinary. "One day just for fun when we were finished filming, I sat on one of their horses with Aisholpan's eagle on my arm," says Reiss. "I could barely hold my arm up—it's a very heavy bird. That alone is not easy to do, but when you see Aisholpan riding her horse at full gallop, it's incredible." Says Spurlock: "It makes me really emotional to watch Aisholpan catch her eagle. There are things that you see that are such feats of human endeavor that you can't even put words to them—they leave you speechless. I don't even know how many times I've watched the film and I cry every time."

During the filming of the hunt, the team stayed in Altai Village, home of Dalaikhan, a long-time friend of Nurgaiv's. One of the things that had fascinated Bell the most about eagle hunters was their custom of giving their eagles back to nature after seven years. "Dalaikhan told me that he'd had his eagle for almost eight years, so it was time for him to give it back," says Bell. "Even though he would normally do it in the spring, he agreed to do it in the winter. It was another one of the things that just fell into my lap on this film." Bell liked the idea of defying expectations by using this scene to open the film. "People expect that they are going to see a film about a really strong little girl, and what they see instead is a bloody sacrifice by an old man," he says. "But I wanted to make an important point about the circle of life: After we see this scene, Aisholpan captures her eagle—you could say that an ‘old guard' is leaving and a young girl is picking up the baton."

Shortly before the film premiered at Sundance in January 2016, STAR WARS was the topic of every conversation and Spurlock saw a link between Daisy Ridley's character "Rey" and Aisholpan. "There's a moment that's happening in our world and our time right now where we are giving voice and power to young women in a way that hasn't ever happened before," he says. "I think that this film resonates in that space in a massive way." Spurlock arranged to show Ridley the film, and Bell called her soon afterwards. "She told me about how she'd been curled up in a ball watching it in her living room crying, and she talked in great detail about specific moments," says Bell. "And it was clear that she was going to be willing to help us promote it any way she could." Not only did Ridley come aboard as executive producer, she later recorded the narration for the theatrical version of the film.

Ultimately, THE EAGLE HUNTRESS is not about Aisholpan breaking a barrier, picking up a prize at a festival, or proving a point to some crotchety old men. She is not the only eagle huntress in Central Asia, and she is not the only girl in Central Asia or the world who has accomplished something amazing. It's simply that after 12 generations of eagle hunters in her family passing on an ancient tradition from father to son, Aisholpan was the first girl to say "I want to do this!" It never occurred to her that she couldn't be an eagle hunter, because her father and mother did not bring her up to think that way. In her sunny countenance, strength and courage, Aisholpan is a glowing metaphor for a world that refuses to say no to the soaring dreams of little girls. "This entire journey is about her personal victory," says Bell. "That's why I end the film so quietly, with Aisholpan and her dad riding off into the sunset and heading home."

Early men and women were equal, say scientists

The authors of the study argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social network (probably not including gardening). Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

The authors of the study argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social network (probably not including gardening). Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Features

Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 21.25 GMT

Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.

A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.

Mark Dyble, an anthropologist who led the study at University College London, said: “There is still this wider perception that hunter-gatherers are more macho or male-dominated. We’d argue it was only with the emergence of agriculture, when people could start to accumulate resources, that inequality emerged.”

Dyble says the latest findings suggest that equality between the sexes may have been a survival advantage and played an important role in shaping human society and evolution. “Sexual equality is one of a important suite of changes to social organisation, including things like pair-bonding, our big, social brains, and language, that distinguishes humans,” he said. “It’s an important one that hasn’t really been highlighted before.”

The study, published in the journal Science, set out to investigate the apparent paradox that while people in hunter-gatherer societies show strong preferences for living with family members, in practice the groups they live in tend to comprise few closely related individuals.

The scientists collected genealogical data from two hunter-gatherer populations, one in the Congo and one in the Philippines, including kinship relations, movement between camps and residence patterns, through hundreds of interviews. In both cases, people tend to live in groups of around 20, moving roughly every 10 days and subsisting on hunted game, fish and gathered fruit, vegetables and honey.

The scientists constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment, based on the assumption that people would chose to populate an empty camp with their close kin: siblings, parents and children.

When only one sex had influence over the process, as is typically the case in male-dominated pastoral or horticultural societies, tight hubs of related individuals emerged. However, the average number of related individuals is predicted to be much lower when men and women have an equal influence – closely matching what was seen in the populations that were studied.

“When only men have influence over who they are living with, the core of any community is a dense network of closely related men with the spouses on the periphery,” said Dyble. “If men and women decide, you don’t get groups of four or five brothers living together.”

The authors argue that sexual equality may have proved an evolutionary advantage for early human societies, as it would have fostered wider-ranging social networks and closer cooperation between unrelated individuals. “It gives you a far more expansive social network with a wider choice of mates, so inbreeding would be less of an issue,” said Dyble. “And you come into contact with more people and you can share innovations, which is something that humans do par excellence.”

Dr Tamas David-Barrett, a behavioural scientist at the University of Oxford, agreed: “This is a very neat result,” he said. “If you’re able to track your kin further away, you’d be able to have a much broader network. All you’d need to do is get together every now and then for some kind of feast.”

The study suggests that it was only with the dawn of agriculture, when people were able to accumulate resources for the first time, that an imbalance emerged. “Men can start to have several wives and they can have more children than women,” said Dyble. “It pays more for men to start accumulating resources and becomes favourable to form alliances with male kin.”

Dyble said that egalitarianism may even have been one of the important factors that distinguished our ancestors from our primate cousins. “Chimpanzees live in quite aggressive, male-dominated societies with clear hierarchies,” he said. “As a result, they just don’t see enough adults in their lifetime for technologies to be sustained.”

The findings appear to be supported by qualitative observations of the hunter-gatherer groups in the study. In the Philippines population, women are involved in hunting and honey collecting and while there is still a division of labour, overall men and women contribute a similar number of calories to the camp. In both groups, monogamy is the norm and men are active in childcare.

Andrea Migliano, of University College London and the paper’s senior author, said: “Sex equality suggests a scenario where unique human traits, such as cooperation with unrelated individuals, could have emerged in our evolutionary past.”

Adrienne Mayor

Adrienne Mayor is a folklorist and historian of ancient science who investigates natural knowledge contained in pre-scientific myths and oral traditions. Her research looks at ancient "folk science" precursors, alternatives, and parallels to modern scientific methods. She is Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, 2018-2019. Mayor's latest book, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology investigates how the Greeks imagined automatons, replicants, and Artificial Intelligence in myths and later designed self-moving devices and robots. Mayor's 2014 book, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World, analyzes the historical and archaeological evidence underlying myths and tales of warlike women (2014, winner of the Sarasvati Prize for Women in Mythology). Mayor's two books on pre-Darwinian fossil traditions in classical antiquity and in Native America have opened up a new field within geomythology, and her book on the origins of biological weapons uncovered the ancient roots of biochemical warfare. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy won top honors (Gold Medal) for Biography, Independent Publishers' Book Award 2010, and was a 2009 National Book Award Finalist. It is the first biography in a century of the world's first experimental toxicologist, the brilliant rebel leader of a Black Sea empire who challenged Roman imperialism in the first century BC. Mayor is also a research scholar in the Classics Department her work is featured on NPR and BBC, the History Channel, the New York Times, Smithsonian, and National Geographic and her books have been translated into French, Chinese, Russian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Hungarian, Polish, and Greek. Mayor's fossil legend research is featured in the National Geographic children's book The Griffin and the Dinosaur (by M. Aronson, 2014). She was a regular contributor to the award-winning history of science website Wonders and Marvels (2011-17).

A recent Stanford Report article on her work is featured here.


The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. Overlook Press, 2003. rev ed 2008, new introduction.

Fox Animation Buying Remake Rights to Daisy Ridley’s Documentary ‘Eagle Huntress’

20th Century Fox Animation is in negotiations for animation remake rights to the Sundance documentary “The Eagle Huntress,” which Daisy Ridley exec produced.

Sony Classics bought the North American, Latin America, Australian and Asian rights to the live-action documentary shortly after the Jan. 24 premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

CAA is repping the filmmakers in the remake deal. Chris Wedge is producing with Darren Lemke writing.

Darlene Caamano Loquet is overseeing with Fox Animation president Vanessa Morrison.

The documentary “The Eagle Huntress” is directed by Otto Bell, and exec produced by Morgan Spurlock and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” actress Ridley. The film centers on Aisholpan, a 13-year old Mongolian girl striving to become the first female Eagle Hunter in the sport’s 2,000-year history.

The film follows Aisholpan as she learns all aspects of the ancient tradition, including taming her own eaglet and training for the annual Golden Eagle Festival, which involves competing against 70 male Eagle Hunters. The movie is set in the remote Altai Mountains of Northwestern Mongolia.

Producers are Stacey Reiss and Sharon Chang. Ridley, Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick, Marc H. Simon, Dan Cogan, Regina K. Scully, Barbara Dobkin and Susan Maclaury are executive producers, in association with Artemis Rising Foundation, Impact Partners, Shine Global and Warrior Poets.

The film’s theme song is written and sung by Sia. News about the animation rights was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

Watch the video: The Eagle Huntress Extended Preview Now on Digital


  1. Burnell

    Very useful topic

  2. Newlin

    You must tell him that you are not right.

  3. Yozshuzilkree

    It's a shame I can't speak now - I'm rushing to work. But I will be released - I will definitely write that I think.

  4. Danton

    I must tell you this is a gross mistake.

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