Open Thread - Thurs 11 Aug 2022 - Sex and Gender in Archaeology Part II

Sex and Gender in Archaeology, Part II -

A few weeks ago I wrote a little bit about 'woke' archaeology. This week I want to discuss a couple of examples of the re-examination of archaeological remains (basically skeletons in burials) and how that re-examination has changed the sex assigned by archaeologists of the individual studied, and perhaps our overall view of the individual's society. Theory and 'facts' can change in Archaeology, and any other discipline, as science and knowledge changes (see this article, linked by Peachcreek in a comment on my open thread on woke archaeology, for a good summary of all this).

Before DNA analysis enabled archaeologists to ascertain the sex of individuals scientifically archaeologists used the best methods they had to determine the biological sex of the individual studied. They assigned sex by the items found with the individual, by the location/type of the burial, by the size of the bones found, etc. By and large, these assignments are not wrong, even after DNA analysis. However, there are some burials, cremations or inhumations, which show a different sex after DNA or other analysis than they were previously assigned. This is EXCITING and means that every society had/has 'exceptions' which 'prove the rule'. And studying those exceptions, making theories about how that society handled those various exceptions and more, are all valid and rerwarding endeavours.

As I stated above, reanalyzing archaeological remains with new scientific methods can bring about fascinating results. This article from January in the Guardian talks about a bit of that in relation to sex and gender. In one case, a Viking warrior, buried in Birka, Sweden with lots of weapons, turned out to be a woman. In other case, two skeletons were buried together 1500 years ago holding hands in what was to become the city of Modena, Italy. They were found in 2009 and local newspapers in Modena called them 'the Lovers'. The finds were difficult to analyze, and it wasn't until new scientific methods related to DNA were discovered that the skeletons were determined to be both male. Here's a few possible conclusions about the Lovers, perhaps you can come up with some of your own. None of them are certain, because as knowledge grows, conclusions can be modified and change. Do the Lovers mean that 500 AD Modena accepted homosexuals? Why not? The ancient Greeks did, and so did the ancient Romans (eventually). Or maybe the Lovers were just rich and therefore were tolerated. Or maybe they were still pagan and not Christian and so weren't considered to be evil. Maybe they were brothers. Explanations can go on and on. Same with the Viking warrioress. Was she really a fighter? Was she honored as a fighter, despite not being one, for some reason? Was she rich and/or important and her foibles and love of war were therefore tolerated? Most Viking warriors were men, so the overall trend doesn't change with this discovery but the questions it brings up, and the view it gives into Viking culture, is fascinating.


A Roman military funeral pyre (from Cool, et al 2004)

Now, here's something a bit closer to my expertise. In 2004 Hillary Cool, et al, published an analysis of an excavation of a cemetery dated to the early-mid to late 3rd C AD at Brougham Roman fort, in Cumbria, England. This is a fort which was part of the Roman frontier system called the Hadrian's Wall complex which ran from coast to coast across northern England. Anyway, the cemetery was dug up in the 1960's, but analysis of the remains came 40 years or so later. Men, women and children were found in the cemetery; most of them had been cremated. Some of the cremations were very elaborate, reflecting the culture of the far distant tribe from which the soldiers and their wives (at least the first generation were probably Danubian) originated. Several cremations included horses, weapons, items made of ivory, jewelry and more. Most of those honored this way were men, but there were two cremations of people noted as 'likely women'. Both had scabbards in their graves, horses were cremated with them, and they had other riches, ivory items, jewelry, and so on. They were about 20 to 30 years old. Were they military leaders? In the Roman army? Or were they the wives or relatives of senior military officers and given the trappings of an important male burial because of that relationship? There's no information that seems to hint that the Roman army recruited women, but perhaps these were actually warriors, part of the units which Roman commentators called 'numeri' and irregular formations (see Cool 2004 pg 461). It's unlikely they were warriors, but, who knows?

So, thanks for reading and here's the open thread - and remember, everything is interesting if you dive deep enough, so tell us about where you're diving!

Share
up
12 users have voted.

Comments

Sima's picture

Yesterday was exciting here at the farm. We are in an area that seldom, at least traditionally, gets thunderstorms. Too cool, too close to the Pacific ocean... but in the last couple of years we've gotten a few t-storms. The first one, well, a lightning strike hit the ground near the house. It started an electric fire in the wall of the house by the oven, and it took out the well pump! Fried a bunch of lights as well.

So yesterday there was another of these thunderstorms (the last one was in August too!). And we didn't get hit by lightning this time. No, the neighbors did! As with the last time the strike was so close there was NO delay between light and sound. It shook the house like an earthquake. Seven neighbors down the road which runs parallel to our pastures lost power and the strike fried a power pole/cable. Fun? I dunno.

So, what's happening with everyone? How's the end of the week going? Anything new, interesting, old, fun, angrifying, whatever, you've noticed lately?

up
13 users have voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so

school.jpg

But is it on sale?

minimum.jpg

democracy_0.jpg

up
10 users have voted.
Sima's picture

@gjohnsit @gjohnsit
That first one, that pic, is so damned true, and so damned depressing.

Here in WA state, the woman I was supporting for representative (she didn't win the primary, the navy licker won). Anyway, she sez the min wage here should be 30$/hr. I agree! 15$ is too low, too low.

Edited to add: Is that guy replying to Prof. Wolfe really saying communism is slavery? I think any political system run too far in the direction of oligarchic control can be slavery, so maybe communism can be. I dunno.

up
4 users have voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so

Lookout's picture

Sorry about the lightening strike and damage. Well pumps ain't cheap nor easy to replace.

We once visited Queen Mauve's grave, the warrior Queen.
They say Maeve is buried in Moisgan Medhbh a 40ft stone monument on the Summit of Knocknarea Co. Sligo, standing upright facing towards her Enemies in Ulster.
Her grave is atop a mountain outside of Sligo
90 Maeve's cairn (1).jpg
When you climb to visit, you're supposed to add a rock to the Cairn
90 Maeve's cairn (8).JPG
An old man asked us if we knew why we should add a rock. We said no, and he said because it is to make sure she stays in her grave. Legend has it she will return if Ireland is invaded.
We stayed nearby at the Beach pub and the cairn is barely visible as a bump on the mountain.
100 Aughris Head (2).JPG
Which is difficult to see at this resolution under the cloud cover.

I suspect women warriors were more common than we currently recognize.

Thanks for the OT!

up
11 users have voted.

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

enhydra lutris's picture

@Lookout

Boadicea and Artemisia. Soviet WWII history is rife with them. They seem to pop up in many cultures and areas across many ages.

be well and havd a good one

up
4 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Sima's picture

@Lookout
Women warriors are more common. And certainly any Princess, Queen, tribal leader if female, still had to 'lead' her armies.

That is so cool, visiting Maeve's burial monument. I've visited a few on the other island in England and Scotland a few times, but I never made it to Ireland so I missed out! My beloved mentor at grad school, he did a lot of archaeological work in Ireland. I'm not sure if he were did any on that monument though.

up
3 users have voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so

Women did it all. In WW2 women were resistance fighters. In Germany many German women were executed by the Nazis for subversive activities. These women knew the consequences that would follow capture. There were French women who were in the resistance in combat roles. There were many women in the Russian army at the front lines. There were women who fought in the Civil War and WW1 disguised as men. Why would it be different 200 or 2000 years ago?

up
10 users have voted.
Sima's picture

@Snode
It's just, now we've got the science to prove it. I remember learning about women who fought in the Revolutionary war and being astounded and so proud. Whores, wives, sisters, hangers-on, whatever.

Caesar complained about the camp followers, including merchants, and how they made it hard to fight because they got in the way. Of course, if they were overrun by the enemy, they also added fighting power, and I think he experienced that a few times.

In the Crusades, ironically, the lower class women camp followers were mostly washerwomen, cooks, and whores. Wives weren't allowed, although I bet they were there too. I guess even in war soldiers can't wash their own clothes :). The upper class were queens, princesses and so on. I bet the lower class women fought in battle at times too. They would have to if they were overrun, etc.

up
3 users have voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so

@Sima I am just puzzled that it is still a concept that amazes people, that women are somehow incapable of doing something. We have women fighter pilots and in the infantry. Why a thousand years ago it is impossible see women in the same situation. They were also healers, and fixers of armor, and maybe weapons. There was Joan of Arc, and Boudica. In the end, in battle, most of the dead were dumped into pits or left where they lay, all those unknowns. Who's to say there weren't women among them. It's the generals and politicians that are remembered in the end.

up
2 users have voted.

mild rebuke to the Ukraine?

up
8 users have voted.
Sima's picture

@humphrey
It seems like Ukraine, similar to Israel, is controlling everything. And we just follow along like lap dogs. If they blow up that nuclear reactor, they deserve all they will get in return, for eons. Such idiots.

up
1 user has voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so

enhydra lutris's picture

Somewhere along the line some profoundly patriarchal culture snuck in and changed western expectations and perceptions. Seemingly nobody scoffed that Athenia and Diana were conceptually laughable, no doubt because human exemplars of the female huntress and female warrior were known, even if uncommon. Japan had famous female warriors. I believe china had some females whose exploits would've seemed out of place to a certain patriarchal culture. Yet anther cultural perversion said to eschew all pleasures of the flesh, especially carnal ones not intended as procreation. I don't think that one had much of a solid hold over Rome, especially further out. Constantine was not fully or wholly xtian. The edict of milan did not mandate xtianity, but merely accepted, as in tolerated, it. Theodesius made it the state religion in 380, up until when Rome and the empire were pretty much pagan and polytheistic. I suspect that the empire was not remotely in its thrall a mere 120 years later.

be well and have a good one

up
5 users have voted.

That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

Sima's picture

@enhydra lutris
And Christianity especially, oversaw the changes you speak of. The Romans had female goddesses, some hunted, some fought, some oversaw maternity, commerce and so on. Same with the Greeks, of course.

Wonder why the early or maybe not super early but in-between Christians were so scared of fornication, childbirth, sexual attraction... maybe it was just another way to control people? To insist that their natural urges should be basically despised?

up
3 users have voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so

all the rains and storms that follow.
I have lived through lightning striking transformers nearby, and being in the dark for over a week, but never a fire. I hope you have insurance to defray the costs of repair!
History not written, and pieced together by archeological digs, is interesting, spurs the imagination. I know life span was short, and whatever they were, hopefully they had some fulfillment, sense of purpose and achievement.
Hug a baby goat, tell it otc loves it!

up
7 users have voted.
Sima's picture

@on the cusp
And Lily, who is not a baby but who will always be the little goat who thinks I'm Mom, got a hug too :). And all of them got lots and lots of berry brambles.

Power out for a week? That sucks. I had that happen once, long ago. Was the result of the 'Inaugural Day Windstorm' which happened when Clinton was made president (think mother nature was telling us something?). The power in this area was out for almost two weeks, because the system equipment was so old they had to get replacements from... wait for it... Russia. Smile Smile

As for the repair of the oven, insurance would have paid IF the expense had been a couple hundred dollars more. But it wasn't, so I paid. Of course. Aren't deductables fun?

Hope you are having a great end of week and will have a great weekend!

up
3 users have voted.

If you're poor now, my friend, then you'll stay poor.
These days, only the rich get given more. -- Martial book 5:81, c. AD 100 or so
Nothing ever changes -- Sima, c. AD 2020 or so