In southern Finland, the remains of a warrior brandishing a sword were unearthed just over 50 years ago. Archaeologists recently reexamined this highly-respected person and found that they “may well have been non-binary” and appeared to have an additional X chromosome (XXY).
A recent publication of the findings in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Archaeology.
The body was most likely interred in a burial close to Suontaka, in the contemporary Finnish municipality of Hattula, between 1040 and 1174 CE, according to radiocarbon dating. One of the many findings of this latest investigation was that only one blade genuinely belonged to the original burial site. The other, more valuable and elaborate, was probably interred at the location later.
An artist’s impression of the Suontaka grave found in southern Finland. Image credit: Veronika Paschenko.
The body was dressed in period-appropriate women’s clothes. Still, it also had two swords nearby, which are frequently (though not necessarily) linked with masculinity in many pre-modern European civilizations.
An ancient DNA study was done on the bones by a team from the University of Turku, the University of Helsinki, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to learn more about this person. The buried person may have been born with the sex-chromosomal aneuploidy XXY, also known as Klinefelter syndrome, even though the DNA was severely damaged, according to the research.
The new study suggests the famous sword of Suontaka was hidden in the grave later in time. Image credit: The Finnish Heritage Agency (CC BY 4.0).
“According to current data, it is likely that the individual found in Suontaka had the chromosomes XXY, although the DNA results are based on a very small set of data,” postdoctoral researcher and study author Elina Salmela from the University of Helsinki said in a press release.
Males with Klinefelter syndrome are born with an extra X chromosome due to a genetic disorder. The condition’s symptoms are frequently modest, and some people are unaware they have it. Small testicles and infertility are the main traits. Additional signs include increased height, wide hips, diminished muscular mass, diminished body hair, a tiny penis, and the appearance of breasts. Some affected individuals also struggle to interact with others or convey their ideas.
The researchers note that it is quite difficult to understand how this person saw himself or how they were defined by the larger social context when we, people of the 21st century, are studying an early Mediaeval civilization. However, the care and respect that went into their burial indicate that this person was well-liked in the neighborhood.
“If the characteristics of the Klinefelter syndrome have been evident in the person, they might not have been considered strictly a female or a male in the Early Middle Ages community. The abundant collection of objects buried in the grave proves that the person was not only accepted but also valued and respected. However, biology does not directly dictate a person’s self-identity,” explained Ulla Moilanen, study author and Doctoral Candidate of Archaeology from the University of Turku.
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