How do you tell the women from the men in Copper-Age Eastern Europe?

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Apparently, the women have jugs.

No, seriously. In a certain archaeological culture known from the vicinity of Prague, male and female burials are distinguished by the mode of burial and the artifacts. The males tend to be buried with their heads towards the west and along with various weapons. Females, on the other hand, tend to be buried with their heads towards the east and surrounded by domestic jugs.

This is interesting for many reasons (to an archaeologist, at least) but even more interesting is the possible discovery of a transgendered person’s burial. This is a male skelton buried in female style. (This story was first reported in 2011, but is being talked about again lately. Which is OK because we really don’t need to ignore or devalue everything that happened more than 72 hours ago, right?)

I quickly add the following caveats:

1) I’ve never seen an archaeological culture where the artifacts matched with the burial practices perfectly. For a number of reasons, what ends up happening under ground is not culture-normative. So, the generalization I provided above is only a generalization; and

2) The skeleton is presumably sexed (that’s the word we use for assigning sex… if you are dead, and a bone, an archaeologist or physical anthropologist will sex you) using the usual techniques of identifying several markers on the skull and pelvis, and a few other measurements, and overall robusticity. This can be wrong. It works, but it can be wrong a lot.

Also, this is not terribly uncommon. Well, it’s uncommon, but it happens. I think it is more common to find probable females in male settings, though.

The story is reported here.

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One thought on “How do you tell the women from the men in Copper-Age Eastern Europe?

  1. And of course, there’s also the problem that what we think is culture-normative is based on a very limited sample – as more site as investigated, the picture almost always turns out to be more complicated than we initially thought.

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