The gender division of the stone age is firmly entrenched in public consciousness, from the portrayal of a bikini-clad cavewoman in the 1966 film One Million Years BC to academic works giving women a supporting role to hunter-gather men.

While men strode out to spear woolly mammoths, women, as mothers or exploited objects of male desire, sheltered in caves from the violent world, according to an understanding said to be increasingly removed from the latest research.

The historians and film-makers behind Lady Sapiens: the Woman in Prehistory, a French book and documentary to be published in the UK in September, say they are now trying to debunk the simplistic division of roles by highlighting advances in the study of bones, graves, art and ethnography

For a long time, prehistory was written from the male point of view, and when women were mentioned, they were portrayed as helpless, frightened creatures, protected by overly powerful male hunters.

John Richardson and Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC (1966)

Neanderthals only have one million years BC.

The reader will be astonished to find that the roles of men and women in the group were not clearly defined, and that all of them cooperated to ensure their survival.

A lack of interest in the role of women among the 19th-century pioneers of research has largely formed today's cliches. There is a lot of art from that period, including Paul Jamin's Dangerous Encounter and Don Chaffey's One Million Years BC.

The purpose was not to portray the pre-historic woman as black-skinned and largely blue-eyed.

She could hunt. She was an important economic player. He said that she could do art and the link between men and women could be very respectful.

The book focuses on the Upper Paleolithic period of 10,000 to 40,000 years ago, and shows how a woman with a baby carrier on her back was able to hunt.

Archaeological digs at the Wilamaya Patjxa site in Peru revealed a woman buried with hunting tools.

Archaeological digs at the Wilamaya Patjxa site in Peru revealed a woman buried with hunting tools. Photograph: Randall Haas/UC Davis/AFP/Getty Images

There are studies of skeletons that show the strength of the upper arm muscles of women, and there is evidence of humans hunting big game.

Six people were exhumed and five burial sites were excavated. A man in his 30s and a young woman under the age of 20 were found with hunting tools. A toolkit of everything needed to hunt and butcher a big game had been placed in the young woman's tomb.

The 11 burial sites where women have been interred alongside weapons were found in the US and suggest that the discovery in Peru has wider significance.

According to De Beane, the importance of small-game hunting has been underplayed by researchers, along with fishing, gathering shellfish or hunting small marine animals, all activities women were likely to have been involved in.

Being a mother was just one facet of the life of women of that period. The latest understanding of the diet and lifestyle of the age suggests that they were not pregnant constantly. Studies show that children who remain breastfed until the age of four will have less fertility.

The director of France's Centre for National Research wrote in a book that Paleolithic women were able to have children until they were 30.

The book states that women achieved high status in their communities. The site of the Lady of Cavillon, the remains of a woman who was buried in a skullcap of seashells, is said to be a valuable clue as to the tribe's respect for her.

1.5 million people watched the documentary about the book in France, but it was not without controversy.

In an open letter published in Le Monde last October, nine pre-history specialists wrote that the works systematically eliminate all the elements which could suggest the probability of male domination.

The documentary and book were not about the life and experience of pre-historic women, as so little could be certain.

The role of men and women isn't always clear, but it's important to show the possibilities in pre-history.