I’d never qualify as an archaeologist. Some seem to be masters in imaginative writing when it comes to the interpretation of archaeological data and that’s a quality I lack. Often their storytelling allows us non-specialists to understand the past, and that’s a good thing is it not? But I do think that a lot of archaeology is based on imagination. Different ‘experts’ can dig the same sites or look at the items we present for appraisal, and reach completely different conclusions.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what people in the past were thinking and believing, especially without having access to substantial written historical records. There is always the bias of their own culture. We don’t have a voice from the past to help us. The archaeologist’s interpretation is all we have to go on at the present time.
Consider the obvious material clues as found in a Saxon grave I witnessed being excavated. The grave goods were of good quality and interpreted as belonging to a person of high status – and that’s a reasonable conclusion, but they could equally have belonged to a thief. What is the current jargon? Thinking outside the box!
Where is all this leading you may ask? I came across a story of a late Stone Age man unearthed during excavations in the Czech Republic. According to archaeologists, the way he was buried suggested that he was of a different sexual persuasion. The first known gay caveman! But not everyone is convinced!
5,000-year-old is outed by the way he/she was buried
My first reaction was that this story was an April Fool’s Day joke that had been picked up by a news wire service and re-run in September. But no, the justification for the man being a homosexual was that during this period men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with the head pointing towards the west; women on their left side with the head facing east.
In this case, the man was on his left side with his head facing west. Another ‘clue’ was that men tended to be buried with weapons, hammers or flint knives. The ‘gay caveman’ was interred with household jugs, and no weapons. The picture (courtesy of Europics) shows one of the domestic jugs among the caveman’s remains.
Another clue is that men tended to be interred with weapons, hammers and flint knives as well as several portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other side. Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as domestic jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet. The ‘gay caveman’ was buried with household jugs, and no weapons.
According to archaeologists,”From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake. Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transvestite. What we see here does not add up to traditional cultural practices.”
I’m not wanting to piddle on the experts’ parade by doubting their conclusions but let’s do some lateral thinking. The man died of a broken neck and that’s why he was on his left side and facing west. Perhaps he was surrounded by pots because he was a good cook or the Stone Age undertakers were simply having a laugh! Perhaps I do have the imagination to qualify as an archaeologist after all!
My mistaken misogynist mate Dave said, “Pretty easy to tell whether the remains were man or woman when you have a complete skeleton like this. Everybody knows that women have one more rib than men.” Then he compounded his ignorance by questioning how the arkies knew for sure that it was not a woman’s skeleton. “Easy,” he said – because the mouth was closed.”
I have reservations about this story: sounds like a load of guesswork to me. Just because the skeleton was buried in a way that arkies find unusual does not constitute proof, does it? I’m always amazed me how science will say they rely on facts, yet arkies use words like, probably – might have been – could mean and suppose, when using these so called ‘facts’. I find it interesting how current thinking and assumptions have coloured some archaeologists conclusions.