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Great Hera!

Archaeologists Discover 2,600-Year-Old “Warrior Prince” That’s Actually a Warrior Princess


Did you think I wouldn’t use a Xena picture for this post? Did you really?

Last month archaeologists working in Tuscany uncovered a tomb holding two 2,600-year-old bodies assumed to be a warrior prince and his wife. The reason they thought they knew the gender of the two piles o’ bones is that one of them was laid to rest near a lance and the other near some pieces of jewelry.

But…

Bone analysis [pause for a giggle break from my inner 12-year-old] has revealed that the “prince” with the lance was actually a 35- to 40-year old woman, and the “wife” who took her worldly bling into the afterlife was a man. Husband? Boy-toy? The world may never know.

Alessandro Mandolesi, who led the expedition, said the spear was placed between the two bodies as a “symbol of union,” so maybe the woman wasn’t a warrior at all. A dissenting opinion comes from Judith Weingarten of the British School at Athens, who notes that the spear was buried with the woman, not between the woman and the man.

As generally fun as this story is (yes, stories about ancient archaeology and gender mix-ups are fun, OK?), it actually highlights a serious problem in the realm of archaeology: Namely, that researchers take their gender biases into the field with them. Archaeologists saw one skeleton with a lance and another with jewelry and assumed that the former was a man and the latter a woman. But that doesn’t take into account the diversity of ancient civilizations. The warrior princess and her tomb-mate, for example, hailed from the Etruscan culture, where, according to LiveScience, women did all sorts of things that were frowned upon in, say, ancient Greece and Rome. They worked out. They had kids by multiple fathers. They partook of the booze and the nude sunbathing.

Says Weingarten:

“Until very recently, and sadly still in some countries, sex determination is based on grave goods. And that, in turn, is based almost entirely on our preconceptions. A clear illustration is jewelry: We associate jewelry with women, but that is nonsense in much of the ancient world. Guys liked bling, too.”

BRB, going to my library’s website to look up books on the Etruscans.

(via: LiveScience)

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  • Anonymous

    Ka-BOOM.

    Sorry, just the sound of somebody’s preconceptions meeting reality at 97 mph.

  • http://caithream.blogspot.com/ Saigh Kym Lambert

    As someone who has been an amateur (until I finally do return for my graduate work…someday….in my dreams) studying this for 25 years, I am boggled that this always seems to come as a surprise. When it happens over and over, it’s not a fluke, yet….they still always assume first.

  • Charlie

    I had an argument with my history professor about him saying there were no female warriors in the ancient world and he said ‘Women aren’t interested in real history they should stick to historical fiction.’….

  • Anna Sophia May

    wow. just wow.

  • Charlie

    This was after I had received a first in Ancient Egyptian Studies, off a different professor, I might add.

  • Diedra Rater

    Kinda reminds me of an article I saw the other day about a theory that the majority of paleolithic cave paintings were made by women (based on the comparison of the length of fingers in the hand prints in the paintings) because people always assumed they were created by men because the majority of famous/successful artists in modern times are also male.

    http://www.sci-news.com/othersciences/anthropology/science-paleolithic-cave-painters-europe-women-01467.html

  • Anna Sophia May

    pardon my language, but what a bag of dicks.

  • Charlie

    And then I’m constantly told that sexism is over by male friends. :/ As a female gamer and historian. No, no it is not.

  • Anonymous

    Someone needs to get Dr. Temperance Brennan on the case.

  • Anna Sophia May

    *Le Sigh.*
    I know that feeling

  • Anonymous

    Uh…I hope you fried his ass and mentioned this to the school…

    Also, Fa Mulan? Hello? The Scythians? WTF.

  • dawnofthenerds

    Wow. Just wow. It’s not like Ahmose-Nefertari was buried with weapons and military medals. Just to name the most obvious example I can think of. Fellow Egyptology student! *waves*

  • Janelle S

    Uh… yeah. Check out Jack Weatherford’s Secret History of the Mongol Queens about Genghis Khan’s badass daughters, and then talk about the lack of female warriors.

  • http://www.according2robyn.blogspot.com/ According2Robyn

    I say challenge him to a duel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nuuni.nuunani Nuuni Nuunani

    Even the theory that she was a warrior is kinda guess work though given the vagueness of archeolegy and sadly we will probably never be able to place a name, much less a history with the discovered body.
    This is one of the more depressing things about archeology, that so much of it has to be guess work and educated guess with very little in the way of substantial proof to work with

  • Stace Dumoski

    LOL, I was thinking to myself “hmm, where can I learn more about Etruscans?” even before I got to your last line!

  • http://www.aeryllou.tumblr.com/ Aeryl

    I thought about that same story!

  • Anonymous

    I wish that story was historical fiction. :/ Or that I could think of an academic field where this doesn’t happen all the time.

  • Anonymous

    Whenever I hear about this sort of bullshit, I think of Kameron Hurley’s “We Have Always Fought” (http://aidanmoher.com/blog/featured-article/2013/05/we-have-always-fought-challenging-the-women-cattle-and-slaves-narrative-by-kameron-hurley/ )

    (Also significantly later than the time period under discussion, but http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusaybah_bint_Ka'ab gets a shoutout from me here. Frickin’ badass.)

    Edit: Oh! Almost forgot the Trung Sisters. National heroines in Vietnam for leading resistance to invading Chinese armies.

  • Anonymous

    Is there historical evidence of Mulan? I know her story of course, but I had always thought it was legend.

  • Anonymous

    Especially because the Etruscans had a whole lot of literature which is just… gone. There’s something like one book left. So long, primary sources. (Then again, Etruscan isn’t fully translated, so we wouldn’t be able to read them either way…)

  • J Ritchey

    There is a chance that a detailed analysis of bone morphology could corroborate the idea that the body was that of a warrior. Consistent, intensive training can show in the muscle attachments and wear patterns.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking as an archaeologist and an osteologist (bone specialist) – yes, it is unfortnately far to common for this jump-to-conclusion interpretation in my field even today. Of course, even when the archaeologist is careful to hedge their bet by saying “the grave goods appear to suggest” it is quickly turned into a “fact” down the line.
    Having said that, many archaeologists do work hard on problematising genders in prehistory and there are many articles and dissertations dealing with the subject.
    My personal favorite is one of the oldest preserved burials in Sweden (mesolithic) with a skeleton found with a special kind of hunting spear. It was displayed for decades at the museum and assumed to be a man – until an osteologist actually looked at it and relised it was a woman.

  • Anonymous

    I could be wrong here, but I always thought that the sex of adult skeletons was one of the easiest things to determine. You know, with the hips and things that ladies tend to have and men not so much.
    That was the impression I got from undergrad archaeology anyway. Seems weird to me that they continue to id bones based on grave goods when it can’t be that hard to get an osteologist to have a quick squiz at them.

  • Anonymous

    I did know it; everything in “Xena” is true and the whole thing actually a documentary! ;-)

  • Elena

    There’s no evidence of a historical Mulan, but she wasn’t the only woman warrior in China by any means. See Princess Pingyang, for example.

  • Jenna

    I had a few profs who announced things like this in class…

    Usually only once though.

    Because I’m both a smartass and a nerdily obsessive reader in areas that interest me. The verbal duels that would occur inevitably caused them to blanch when I walked into class…. but on the upside, the cool profs? They liked me. I made and brought cookies to those classes. A lot. And as professors are only human, a batch of triple chocolate cookies will keep lecture halls a happy happy upbeat place. I believe in all things, be fair, be balanced, and make sure your karma is right by giving cookies to those that deserve it. This all being said, off to nerdily and obsessively read up on this find and all the brain tingling comments other commentators have listed… Hmm. Anyone know how I can shove some cookies into the web for this post and the writer & readers?

  • Anonymous

    You know, the bone structures of human males and of human females have a number of distinct differences from one another. An average joe, who doesn’t know what those differences are, might not be able to tell whether a skeleton is male or female (hell, *I* don’t know where the distinctions actually lie), but any expert (or hell, anyone who’s done their homework on the matter) should be able to tell pretty easily.

    So, maybe these guys aren’t very good archaeologists.

  • AngelaT

    Wha-What? Has he never heard of Boadicea, just to name one off the top of my head? What kind of history prof was this? And based on a comment you made below (getting a first in something) it sounds like you’re in England maybe? If so, even doubly worse for him to not know of her…

  • Michelle Hunt

    amen to that!

  • Michelle

    Good for you! I was a similar smartass nerd. Also, chocolate ftw.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    It’s even worse when women tell you that sexism is over, (and feminism isn’t needed any more) and you have to wonder what the hell those people are smoking. Although males should hopefully not be that ignorant either.

    Have had a friend and one of my dates be in academia and the way women are treated in that area is abominable; sexual harassment is rife and women get no respect. Very shameful for people who are supposedly “learned”.

  • Stewart Zoot Wymer

    I guess with a whole skeleton preserved intact it should be a snap, I guess fragmentary skeletons might not conclusively prove gender due to possible gaps, leading to “is this a wide set of hips with missing bone or a narrow set?” but I guess the tradition seems to be to “assume male until proven otherwise” but that’s just lazy. I mean, the field is a *science* – and that’s about things you can prove, no? So why just assume things or offer unproven hypotheses as proof?

  • Mark Brown

    Which suggests that the guy buried with her is Joxer. . .

  • Emily Hill

    XD ITS LIKE THE MUMMY AT THE SCIENCE MUSEUM IN BATON ROUGE ONLY REVERSED FOR 40 YEARS THEY THOUGHT IT WAS A GIRL AND A RECENT XRAY PROVED IT WAS A GUY XD

  • Anonymous

    in regards to the hips and things, all humanity exists on a series of continuums, not dualities. There’s an overlap in the wider male and narrower female hips (as well as general robustness or gracileness of the skeleton). It also varies widely between populations, so you need a large section of the target population to even get a good bearing on the likelihood of male/female (let’s not even get into gender)

  • Saraquill

    *facepalm* I hope he wasn’t tenured.

  • Anonymous

    I love that sound, don’t you?

  • Anonymous

    And his niece, who was also a total badass.

    My history professor would have gleefully beaten him about the head and shoulders with a chair (or her 20 pound cat).

  • Anonymous

    I used to get that all the time from friends on Facebook and in real life. So I started posting articles and anecdotes from other people captioned with “And they say misogyny is dead…”

    Those friends either shut up or stopped being friends with me.

  • Anonymous

    As stated above, that’s pretty true with a complete skeleton. Incomplete skeletons or shattered, scattered skeletons make things more difficult.

  • Anonymous

    And Cartimandua (if you want to stay in the area). Even Nefertiti was depicted w/the War Crown of Egypt!

  • Anonymous

    “No female warriors?” Then why has that statue of Boudicca in her magnificent war-chariot and holding a spear aloft been outside the Houses of Parliament here in the UK for so long? I wasn’t aware she was considered a fictional character.

  • Anonymous

    People back before the Renaissance and Victorian eras (the most massive rewritings of history that took place in western civ) were not as hung up on “sexual identity” as modern people. Yes, only a man could be Pharaoh, but a woman with a fake beard was close enough. Yes, sexual relations between people of the same gender were frowned upon, but only if it interfered with procreation responsibilities the individual had towards their society. Modern people are obsessed with their sexual identity to such am overwhelming degree that we do flat out insane stuff to prove “which team” we are on, ignoring that the “teams” are a totally contrived concept.

    China is another issue altogether, one word, “legalism”

  • cactusren

    Ugh. I once had a spanish professor say that mechanica wasn’t a word, because there are no female mechanics. Everyone in the room just stared at him, like “Is he serious?”

  • Anonymous

    It’s not always as easy as people imagine, though the better preserved the easier. Unfortunately a lot of archaeologists tend to not wait for the analysis before jumping to conclusions.

  • Elena

    I’m a Spaniard. Yeah, he’s full of shit. Even the sexist thing that is the dictionary of the RAE lists “Mecánico, ca. [...] 8. m. y f. Persona que profesa la mecánica. 9. m. y f. Persona dedicada al manejo y arreglo de las máquinas.” “M. y f.” means “masculine and feminine” and says that the word gets either gender. So use “mecánica” with abandon.

  • Roberta

    He has at least one PhD and still thinks like that? Be right back, gone to fight the patriarchy.

  • Mina

    Well, if the pelvic girdle is intact, it’s still usually a snap. It’s not really the size of the hips that matters; it’s the angle the pubic bones make (women’s pubic bones make much wider angles, generally). But if that part is broken or missing (or you just don’t bother to check it), it definitely gets hard to tell. Why people then feel free to make assumptions rather than to wait and see if conclusive evidence can be found is beyond me.

  • Jenna

    Borrow at will, for cookies & being fair and respectful will solve nearly 95% of all issues a person is bound to face in normal day to day life. Really. Best example? I once was in a desperate bind – a road crew had laid new tar and various other bits of road work that couldn’t be driven over for several hours in front of the house I was renting, basically sealing me in (had been working 3 jobs while in school, really odd hours, so had been asleep when the ‘move by XX sign was up) and I had to get to my job at the bank with no way, or so I thought, to get out and there. I had baked cookies right before I had gone to bed, and in a desperate plea, ran out with the lot – basically hoping the foreman would at least be able to help me figure out a solution. A place I could get a cab to meet me, could I pay someone for a lift on the crew, something. They shared out the cookies, asked if I had any milk while they would think about it, ran in to grab a gallon and a bag of red plastic cups… and came out to find a group of 6 had walked over to my Geo Metro, each grabbed a bit (thank heavens for cheap light cars!) and basically WALKED the car over the wet road the 500 feet, and had it set for me to just ride on out. All because I had been polite, not screamed at them (they had been cursed at most of the morning apparently), and had given them fresh cookies. The power of baking is not to be understated! That night, I made a 2nd batch as a thank you, and for the next 6 months, the foreman would send me an email telling me when they would be in the the area and what roads they were working on so I could zip around town and miss all the traffic jams. Cookies, they are magic!

  • Anonymous

    I feel you’re pain, in my classics department I was nicknamed Callipygia. Ancient Greek for ‘nice arse’, basically. What a bag of enlightened individuals that faculty were.

  • Veida Bose

    Yeah. It still surprise people to know that gender mix up actually took place in the past.
    __________________________________________________________
    märkesklockor

  • Elena

    Oh, come *on*.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I checked Wikipedia too :) Hua Mulan is listed as “legendary” there, and I didn’t see anything in the article to indicate historicity. Chinese history isn’t my bailiwick, though (and of course Wikipedia is not always fully reliable), which is why I was asking.

  • Anonymous

    Yup! Also, Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, who led a rebellion against the British and Boadicea of the Celts, who led a rebellion against the Romans.

    Jeez. This guy’s a history professor?

  • Anonymous

    Well, the Roman historians didn’t consider her fictional.

  • JPinkerton Snoopington

    all “cw” archaeologists have been and are almost always wrong

  • Wayne Kerr

    When you do can you give me a lift to the Library of Alexandria?

  • Wayne Kerr

    Many myths have a factual basis, is this an Amazon warrior? The other? A male slave sacrificed to serve her in the afterlife?

  • Pink Apocalypse

    Violence is never supposed to be the answer, but my vagina is urging me to kick him straight in the throat.

    It must be my lifetime of sword fighting & martial arts training, that no woman has ever been ‘interested’ in. What a fuck wit.

  • JonW

    Come to the darkside!…we have cookies! Muahahahaha! That story made my morning. Thanks for sharing. See? Even a story about cookies works! ;)

  • Anonymous

    No female warriors in ancient history? Is he serious? How in the world did he become a history professor?

  • John Smith

    This is why we need a women’s history, black history, Irish heritage month etc.
    Because researchers’ bias can transform now-oppressed groups in history from the variety of roles they had in other cultures – pioneers, warriors, leaders – into today’s stereotypes.

  • Trisha1480

    This is why I don’t always believe what is taught about ancient cultures. A lot of what is taught is educated guessing, which may or may not be accurate. Lots of things are taught as facts in our school books, that are just beliefs. Sometimes there just isn’t enough information to go on, so that is when the fiction begins.

  • adrienne

    Yeah, I don’t think the Roman *soldiers* considered her fictional either. :)

  • Charlie

    We were discussing Anglo Saxon women and he said how no women would have weapons. I said I found that strange because it would be such a threatening environment, like surely you would have a small knife at least. He obviously had a huge chip on his shoulder or something because he came out with what I said above. I was, to be honest, stunned since we weren’t even talking about the whole ancient world, or even warriors, just domestic people living day to day.