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Activist Group Warns Archeologists Against Assuming The Gender Of Ancient Remains

Charisa Bossinakis

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Activist Group Warns Archeologists Against Assuming The Gender Of Ancient Remains

A group of ‘anarchist archaeologists’ has warned others in the field not to assume the gender of ancient remains.

Black Trowel Collective Migrants have called out other archaeologists for their ‘harmful’ academic research by saying that DNA can only determine biological sex, not gender.

They claim archaeology has a ‘long history of imposing modern patriarchal gender and sexual norms onto the past’.

Historians frequently portray men as active ‘hunters’ and women as passive ‘home keepers’ or ‘gatherers’.

Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

In a blog post, the Black Trowel Collective Migrants explained why this can be problematic.

“The erasure of the complexity of sex and gender beyond simple binaries is a function of contemporary transphobic ideologies within archaeological analyses and not a reflection of past peoples’ lives," they said.

They added: “The further back one goes, the fewer and more fragmented the traces of people’s lives become and the more complicated it is to interpret and understand them.”

They state that categorising remains as either male or female can cause ‘damage’ to people in the present and further marginalise those who identify as gender-fluid or non-binary.

Black Trowel Collective Migrants insists that we must 'interrupt, contradict and correct anyone who dares to rationalise their own bigotry in this way'.

Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

However, the notion of diversifying gender in the study has been criticised by Jeremy Black, an emeritus professor of history at the University of Exeter.

He told the Daily Mail: "It is an absurd proposition as the difference between genders, just as the difference between religious, social and national groups, are key motors in history.

"This very ideological approach to knowledge means that we're in danger of making knowledge itself simply a matter of political preference."

But, archaeologist Susan Stratton said there is considerable overlap between male and female burial goods, and ‘binaries’ are a lot more present in history than scientists have initially thought, according to JSTOR Daily.

Starting with the 5,000 BCE, Late Neolithic and Copper Age, men were often buried with weapons or precious metals and women were usually buried with jewellery.

However, she revealed that around 25 per cent of burials that couldn’t confidently be identified as male or female - as their skeletal remains had significantly eroded.

Male/female based typology fails to include those individuals who cannot be sexed, or biologically do not fit into one of those two groups,” she said.

Featured Image Credit: Alamy Stock Photo.

Topics: News, Science, LGBTQ

Charisa Bossinakis
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