Interpreting Archaeological Data

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!

Courtesy Europics

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




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  1. ‘But I do think that a lot of archaeology is based on imagination.’ Isn’t that the truth John.. Too many archies make a mess of things.

    But as to why the many is gay for laying on his left side?? Maybe his wife found him to be more pleasant to get along with after he woke up to a nice sunrise and a good meal!!! And he preferred lying on his left side.. LOL You know.. getting up on the wrong side of the bed..

    Best to you


  2. Their reasoning seems sound given the information they have to work with.
    Do you know if they examined the skeleton to determine that it was indeed male?
    An alternative for you might be a female who had decidedly male tendencies.

    • BRUCE SAID: Do you know if they examined the skeleton to determine that it was indeed male?

      I would have thought this was done before any interpretation was made!

  3. Judging by the photograph, perhaps he wasn’t buried after all. He had just partaken of a belly busting meal which may have consisted of an iffy burger from the barbecue and died from food poisoning clutching his stomach. The broken neck was purely incidental to the tractor wheel driving over his last resting place.
    There, is that enough imagination John?….. or is it fact?

    • Ummm … You have convinced me John. You make a very good argument and I cannot find fault … an iffy mammoth burger it could well be for Ugg’s demise.

  4. I’m thinking he was playing hide-and-go-seek or sardines even, and won…….or lost depending on how you look at it?

    A kitchen squeezed between a few pots is always a good spot to hide, don’t you think?

    The broken neck was probably a result of his mother being angry when she realized he had broken that special pot…… know the one you only take out when “the good company” are coming over?

  5. You have to wonder alright John. There seems to be a very flexible line between hard evidential facts and the speculative imaginations of some archaeologists. Here’s another good example in relation to an Iron Age body recovered from an Irish bog.


    Kelly also said that museum staff will check if any other injuries were inflicted on the body and determine his age and if he had suffered any illnesses. He said that the preservation of the man’s nipples was also important, as on previous bog bodies such as Oldcroghan Man they had been cut to indicate this person was a king.

    “The kissing or suckling of a king’s nipples was a gesture of submission,” Kelly said. “So by cutting the nipples, the king was being decommissioned.”

  6. Maybe he was self conscious about his looks and thought his right side was his best side. He was well respected in all of the surrounding caves, so he was buried on his left side out of respect.