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The modern re-analysis of a grave found in Finland over 50 years ago is challenging the traditional beliefs about gender roles in medieval Scandinavia. It reveals insights into how non-binary people could have been valued and respected members of their communities. -Medievalists.
A medieval grave in Finland that was thought to hold the body of a female warrior or ruler has revealed a surprise — the person buried there may be non-binary.
An archaeologist excavated the 900-year-old grave in 1968, finding inside the remains of an individual wearing oval brooches on top of woolen textiles — a style of dress that is "a typical feminine costume of the era," a team of researchers wrote in a paper published online July 15 in the European Journal of Archaeology. A sword was found on the left side of the individual, and another sword, likely deposited sometime after the person was buried, was buried above the burial.
"Since then, the grave has been interpreted as evidence of powerful women, even female warriors and leaders in early medieval Finland," the researchers wrote. However, new DNA tests have revealed that the person is anatomically male and had Klinefelter syndrome, a condition in which a male has an extra X chromosome. Each cell normally holds a pair of sex chromosomes — XX for female and XY for male — that determines a person's sex. A person with Klinefelter syndrome has cells with XXY chromosomes, according to the Mayo Clinic. This condition can cause breast enlargement, infertility and a small phallus. After finding this genetic surprise, the researchers said it's possible that the person may have identified as non-binary, they wrote in the study.
The fact that the person was buried with swords and jewelry suggests that people in their community accepted this identification and did not treat them as an outcast, the research team wrote.
"It has been suggested that, in the ultramasculine environment of early medieval Scandinavia, men with feminine social roles and men dressing in feminine clothes were disrespected and considered shameful," the researchers wrote, noting that the new finding casts doubt on this idea.
Because swords and jewelry cost a sizable amount of money, this person likely came from a wealthy and possibly influential family, the research team wrote.
"The individual could have been a respected member of a community because of their physical and psychological differences from the other members of that community; but it is also possible that the individual was accepted as a non-binary person because they already had a distinctive or secured position in the community for other reasons; for example, by belonging to a relatively wealthy and well-connected family," the researchers wrote.
Another possibility is that the person was a shaman or magic user. Surviving texts from the time suggest that some shamans and magic users were men who wore women's clothes because the Norse god Odin "was associated with feminine magic," the research team wrote. - Live Science.
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