Oldest Gay in the Village?
WARNING: This blogpost contains sarcasm, old bones, clay pots and is minus detector matters and tedious videos with boring voice-overs that tell you nothing.
I’d never qualify as an archaeologist. Some seem to be masters in imaginative writing when it comes to the interpretation of archaeological data and that’s a quality I lack. Often their storytelling allows us non-specialists to understand the past, and that’s a good thing is it not? But I do think that a lot of archaeology is based on imagination. Different ‘experts’ can dig the same sites or look at the items we present for appraisal, and reach completely different conclusions.
Sometimes it is hard for your Finds Liaison Officer to know what people in the past were thinking and believing, especially without having access to substantial written historical records. There is always the bias of their own culture. We don’t have a voice from the past to help us. The archaeologist’s interpretation is all we have to go on at the present time.
Consider the obvious material clues as found in a Saxon grave I recently witnessed being excavated. The grave goods were of good quality and interpreted as belonging to a person of high status – and that’s a reasonable conclusion, but they could equally have belonged to a thief. What is the current jargon? Thinking outside the box!
Where is all this leading you may ask? Last year I came across the story of a late Stone Age man unearthed during excavations in the Czech Republic. According to archaeologists, the way he was buried suggested that he was of a different sexual persuasion. The first known gay caveman!
My first reaction was that this story was an April Fool’s Day joke that had been picked up by a news wire service and re-run in June. But no, the justification for the man being a homosexual was that during this period men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with the head pointing towards the west; women on their left side with the head facing east.
In this case, the man was on his left side with his head facing west. Another ‘clue’ is that men tended to be buried with weapons, hammers or flint knives. The ‘gay caveman’ was interred with household jugs, and no weapons.
Let’s do some lateral thinking. The man died of a broken neck and that’s why he was on his left side and facing west. Perhaps he was buried surrounded by pots because he was a good cook or the Stone Age undertakers were simply having a laugh! Who knows? Perhaps I do have the imagination to qualify as an archaeologist after all!
Can YOU suggest an alternative and plausible reason why the caveman was buried in this way?
First published in 2011