1000-year-old remains in Finland could be the leader of the non-binary Iron Age | Archeology
Modern analysis of a 1,000-year-old grave in Finland challenges long-held beliefs about gender roles in ancient societies and may suggest that non-binary people were not only accepted but respected members of their communities. communities, researchers said.
According to a reading committee study in the European Journal of Archeology, DNA analysis of remains in a late Iron Age tomb at Suontaka Vesitorninmäki in Hattula, southern Finland, may have belonged to a high-status non-binary person.
First discovered in 1968 during construction work, the tomb contained jewelry in the shape of oval brooches as well as fragments of woolen clothing suggesting that the deceased was dressed in a “typical female costume of the time” , the researchers said.
But exceptionally, the tomb also contained a hiltless sword placed on the person’s left side, with another sword, probably deposited at a later date, buried above the original tomb – props more often associated with the masculinity.
For decades, researchers said, archaeologists had either assumed that two bodies, a man and a woman, were buried in Suontaka’s tomb, or that it was evidence that strong female leaders, even female warriors. , existed in early medieval Finland.
“The individual buried appears to have been a highly respected member of their community,” said lead author of the study, Ulla Moilanen, archaeologist from the University of Turku. “They were laid in the grave on a soft feather blanket with furs and valuables.”
DNA analysis, however, showed that the grave contained the remains of only one person – and that they had Klinefelter syndrome. Usually a woman has two X chromosomes (XX) and a man has one X and one Y (XY). In Klinefelter syndrome, a man is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome (XXY).
Men with the syndrome, which affects about one in 660 men, are still genetically males and often don’t realize they have the extra chromosome, but the disease can cause enlarged breasts, a small penis and testes, a low libido and infertility.
The Finnish researchers warned that the DNA results were based on a small sample and only a relatively small number of genetic sequences could be read, meaning they had to rely to some extent on modeling.
But they said based on their data, it was likely that the body in Suontaka’s grave had XXY chromosomes. The high-ranking burial led them to conclude that the person could have been identified as outside traditional gender divisions.
“The general context of the grave indicates that it was a respected person whose gender identity may not have been binary,” they wrote.
If the hallmarks of Klinefelter syndrome were evident, Moilanen said, the person “might not have been viewed strictly as a woman or a man in the early medieval community. The abundant collection of objects buried in the tomb is proof that the person was not only accepted, but also valued and respected.
The finding calls into question the idea that “in the ultramascular environment of early medieval Scandinavia, men with feminine social roles and men dressed in feminine clothes were disrespectful and viewed as shameful,” the researchers said.
The person may also have been accepted as a non-binary person “because they already had a distinctive or secure position in the community for other reasons,” the researchers said, as coming from a wealthy or influential family or to be a shaman.
Paleogeneticists and academics experts in ancient DNA analysis contacted by the Livescience website generally said the study was “convincing” in showing that the person buried in Suontaka was likely non-binary.
Archaeologists and historians also backed the findings, saying it was “exciting” to see new work addressing issues of gender and identity. Leszek Gardeła of the National Museum of Denmark said the study showed that societies in the early Middle Ages “had very nuanced approaches and understandings of gender identities.”