Sunday, April 10, 2011

'Gay caveman' theory gets a rocky reception

Archaeologists in Prague say they've uncovered a Stone-Age man buried in a position usually reserved for women — but media claims of a "gay caveman" may be exaggerated, according to some researchers.

The skeleton, which dates back to about 2,500 to 2,800 B.C., was found in the outskirts of Prague. The culture the man belonged to (known as the Corded Ware culture for their pottery decorated with the impressions of twisted cord) was very finicky about grave rituals, reported Iranian news network Press TV, which visited the excavation site. According to the Czech news website, Corded Ware males were usually buried on their right sides with their heads facing east. This man, however, was buried on his left with his head facing west — a traditionally female position.

"We found one very specific grave of a man lying in the position of a woman, without gender specific grave goods, neither jewelry or weapons," lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova of the Czech Archaeological Society told Press TV.

Not gay, not a caveman

Vesinova and her colleagues told reporters that the man may have belonged to a "third gender." This designation is for people who may be viewed as neither male nor female or some combination of both. In some cases, third-gender individuals are thought to be able to switch between male and female depending on circumstance. Modern examples include the Hijras of India and the Fa'afafine of Polynesia.

The skeleton has been trumpeted in the media as belonging to a "homosexual caveman," but some archaeologists are skeptical. For one thing, the complexity of the third-gender concept makes calling the skeleton "gay" an oversimplification, wrote Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist in Chapel Hill, N.C., in her blog, Bone Girl.

"If this burial represents a transgendered individual (as well it could), that doesn't necessarily mean the person had a 'different sexual orientation ' and certainly doesn't mean that he would have considered himself (or that his culture would have considered him) 'homosexual,'" Killgrove wrote.

(Transgender is defined as when gender identity doesn't match physical or genetic sex. Third gender is a broader term that covers a wide range of gender identities in a number of cultures, some of whom reject the male-female binary altogether.)

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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