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Archaeologists studying the burials of Norse invaders in early England often determined sex by whether they were buried with jewelry or weapons/equestrian equipment. But, when they osteologically sex the bones, they find some Norse women were buried with weapons and horse stuff.
This is the kind of gendered BS that's holding back the field of early medievalism: we assume clear-cut binaries of sex, then use that to analyze everything, then present that "evidence" to back up our clear-cut binaries.
There's a Norfolk burial at Santon Downham that has both "male" and "female" burial goods and so has been widely classified as a "double-burial" (i.e., a burial of a man and woman). BUT THERE IS ONLY ONE SKELETON IN THE GRAVE. Now the other skeleton COULD have gone missing but...
That's not the only burial of a single skeleton where things marked as "female" (broaches, etc) are found alongside things marked as "male" (spears, swords, etc). But all of these are explained away. Thankfully, recent excellent work has been undoing these assumptions.
What's exhausting is that the work now being done to correct these assumptions still itself enforces gender binaries: skeletons sexed as "female" are read (in the popular media, at least) as evidence of Viking warrior women. Trans possibilities are ignored.
Could some of these burials be what we would describe as trans men? Could these "double burials" be evidence that the gender binary simply wasn't a thing? Carol Clover has shown a one-sex model in Norse lit, yet that hasn't shown up in this scholarship to my (limited) knowledge.
This rant is inspired by me reading Shane McLeod's excellent article in Early Medieval Europe, "Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900," which undoes many of these assumptions.
And this is all without discussing the problems with osteological sexing of skeletons, or the problems with identifying "Norse" burials, which, again, are primarily determined through the grave goods, even though English and Norse cultures are hardly distinct. It's a Mess!
New scholarship is pushing back on these assumptions and showing how the early Middle Ages were filled with powerful women (including women warriors), trans people, and queer people. Who knows what assumptions remain to be undone. The future of the past looks bright! ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜
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