Archaeological Gender Switch: Etruscan Warrior Prince Was Really a Princess

First Posted: Oct 21, 2013 09:29 AM EDT

It's a case of archaeological gender switching. Last month, researchers unearthed a completely sealed tomb that held the remains of an Etruscan prince with a spear along with the ashes of his deceased wife. Now, a bone analysis has shown that this prince wasn't really a prince--instead, the warrior was a princess. Not only that, but the ashes belonged to a male rather than a female, which means that the princess was likely with the remains of her dead husband.

The Etruscan woman was likely 35 to 40 years old when she died. Although Alessandro Mandolesi, who led the expedition, hypothesizes that the spear placed between the two bodies may have been a "symbol of union," there are others who disagree, according to The Mary Sue. Judith Weingarten of the British School at Athens noted that the spear was buried with the woman rather than between the woman and the man. This hints at the fact that, in fact, the woman may have been a warrior in her own right.

Historians know relatively little about the Etruscan culture, which was absorbed by the Romans around 400 BC, according to The Huffington Post. They left no historical documents, which means that their graves are what has so far informed archaeologists about the Etruscans. This could mean that a warrior woman may not have been such an odd occurrence in this culture.

The tomb itself dates back to the beginning of the sixth century BC, according to Inside are two funerary beds carved into rock. One of them contains a skeleton bearing a lance. On another are the partially incinerated remains of another skeleton with several pieces of jewelry and a bronze-plated box. Although the archaeologists first speculated that this partially incinerated skeleton was a woman, it now turns out to be a man.

The recent findings reveal just how easily both modern and old biases can color the interpretation of ancient graves. In addition, it shows that female warriors may not have been such an uncommon sight among the Etruscan culture.

"Until very recently, and sadly still in some countries, sex determination is based on grave goods," said Weingarten in an interview with "And that, in turn, is based almost entirely on our preconceptions. A clear illustration is jewelry: We associate jewelry with women, but that is nonsense in much of the ancient world. Guys liked bling, too."

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