Sunday, April 10, 2011

Was the "gay caveman" a shaman?

Since the pioneering field work of Waldemar Bogoras more than a hundred years ago, ethnologists have been aware that the shamanism of Siberia and adjacent regions sometimes had a homosexual component. Shamans are “magicians of the sacred” who claim to have out of the body experiences.

Some Siberian shamans who are gender transformative start as men and then adopt a feminized identity; others begin as women who similarly cross gender boundaries. There are analogies with the Two-spirit people (berdache) of the Americas. All these phenomena are, in their turn, part of the broad phenomenon of same-sex behavior that relies on gender-differentiation as its defining feature.

This cultural complex may underly a fascinating new archaeological find, reported in The Telegraph (UK) on April 6, 2011 ( and relayed by a number of other papers.

The article is headed “Archaeologists have unearthed the 5,000-year-old remains of what they believe may have been the world's oldest known gay caveman”--seemingly a “transsexual” or 'third-gender grave” in the Czech Republic.

Here are some details as reported in the article:

The male body--thought to date back to between 2900-2500 BCE--was discovered buried in a way normally reserved only for women of the Corded Ware culture in the Copper Age. The burial was found in a Prague suburb with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves.

"From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," said lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova. "Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual," she added.

In the Corded Ware culture (beginning in the late Stone Age and culminating in the Bronze Age) men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their heads pointing towards the west, and women on their left sides with their heads pointing towards the east. The corpses of both sexes would be placed in a crouching position.

The men would be buried alongside weapons, hammers, and flint knives as well as portions of food and drink to accompany them to the other world. Women would be buried with necklaces made from teeth, pets, and copper earrings, as well as jugs and an egg-shaped pot placed near the feet.

"What we see here doesn't add up to traditional Corded Ware cultural norms. The grave in Terronska Street in Prague Six is interred on its left side with the head facing the West. An oval, egg-shaped container usually associated with female burials was also found at the feet of the skeleton. None of the objects that usually accompany male burials, such as weapons, stone battle axes and flint knives, were found in the grave. "We believe this is one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a 'transsexual' or 'third gender grave' in the Czech Republic," archaeologist Katerina Semradova told a press conference on Tuesday.

She said that archaeologists had uncovered an earlier case dating from the Mesolithic period where a female warrior was buried as a man. She added that Siberian shamans were also buried in this way but with richer funeral accessories to appropriate to their elevated position in society. "But this later discovery was neither of those, leading us to believe the man was probably homosexual or transsexual," Semeradova said.



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