Gender archaeology is a sub-discipline investigative method of studying ancient societies through close examination of the roles played by men and women as exhibited in the archaeological record of the past.
Examining the DifferencesGender archaeologists study the relative vocational positions social status, and recognition of men and women by identifying and examining the differences in authority and power that they held according to the material remains of their society.
Such differences, if any, require subjective interpretation and are often open to wide debate, as the archaeological record cannot speak more clearly than simply to supply relative artefacts that have survived through the ages.
Gender relationship and study can inform us about the relationships of other social groups such as class distinction, politics, families, religious orders, and the military.
Interpretation of Gender DataGender archaeology injects new questioning into philosophical archaeology and promotes a focussed awareness of the importance of valid interpretation of data as well as causing a revision of existing data. Through challenging the commonly held but preconceived ideas about how men and women inter-related in the past, this sub-discipline demands evidence instead of assertions. Gender archaeologists force us to cease attempting to reconstruct the past interactions of men and women by overlaying the ancient archaeological record with a 21st century template.
The benefits to anthropology generally are in the areas where researchers can learn more about gender roles, gender ideology, and gender relationships.
Ancient Korean Burial TombsGender identification is often difficult, as the biological remains have usually perished long beyond recognition. A Korean archaeological expedition at Silla, in the country’s south, discovered numerous tomb mounds that proved difficult to sex. Identification of the sex of the deceased person was not easy because the burial chambers were on the ground or below ground level allowing moisture to rapidly deteriorate the organic materials.
Added to the complication was that no written inscriptions were present on any tomb that may have provided a gender related name to the inhabitant. When the burial artefacts were studied they showed no gender differences. All of the bodies indicated that they had worn jade and gold earrings, bracelets, toe rings, and necklaces. If interpreted through the dress code of modern society it would lead to the conclusion that all burials were of women.
Who Wields the Sword?However, it was noticed that in one half of the burials, one or more swords lay beside the remains. Are those with a sword, men? Or were women also warriors? Does a sword mean a warrior? These are the questions that the gender archaeologist seeks to answer in order to better understand gender issues.
Who Ruled the Roost?Two apparently noble people have been discovered in a large double tomb at the same burial location in what has been labelled Tomb 98. A double burial usually implies a husband and wife. The man, thought to be a nobleman or even a King, was buried in the southern section along with many swords and extensive weaponry. However, in the adjoining northern area the woman had been buried with an array of spectacular crowns and golden belts.
These finds open up the discussion of the role of women in past society. The gender archaeologist is introducing an improvement that refines artefact interpretation. They seek to improve archaeological methodology and in doing so assist us to arrive at a more balanced consideration of the roles, relationships, and beliefs of ancient men and women.