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Gender: sexed bodies

The foremost primary sources for the study of a past society are its individuals, i.e. the human remains, skeletal and mummified. In study of social and individual attitudes to or negotiations of gender, the human remains need to be identified within the spectrum of possibilities in each of the variable sets - class, race, age and sex. For the differential sexing of bodies as 'male' and 'female' (also as 'male' 'female' and 'child'), archaeology uses techniques developed in anatomical sciences. A convenient starting-place for further reading is the Shire Archaeology introduction by Stirland 1999.

For any documentation, question the 'authority':

These issues determine the reliability of the data, and this cannot be assumed from the date of excavation: if remains are not accessible for checking, even the most recently excavated lose to a large degree their scientific value. Sometimes, earlier discoverers made fewer assumptions and were therefore more objective in recording. Conversely, later generations with more data behind them sometimes slipped into recording a burial as 'male' or 'female' according to the contents. A body with a 'masculine' weapon or tool would be classed male, whereas one with 'feminine' ornaments would be female. In such cases, the burial, rather than the body, has been sexed: the researcher has confused the separate categories of 'sexed bodies' and 'gender'.

See Hjorungdal 1994


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