Objects in Neolithic graves did not vary according to gender

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C: Leiden University

Research into the oldest known burial site in the Netherlands challenges traditional views of gender roles at the time.

Objects in Neolithic graves did not vary according to gender 1
C: Leiden University

New archaeological research on grave goods and skeletal material from the oldest burial site in the Netherlands shows that 7,000 years ago male-female roles were less traditional than previously thought. The research was carried out by a multidisciplinary team of researchers led by Archol, the National Museum of Antiquities and Leiden University.

A team of chemical analysts, physical anthropologists and archaeologists examined the Elsloo burial site. Dr. Luc Amkreutz, curator of prehistory at the National Museum of Antiquities, took a close interest.

The researchers examined grave goods and skeletal remains. From the cremation remains they were able to determine the sex and age of some of the deceased. This led them to conclude that flint arrowheads and stone axes, traditionally attributed to men, were also frequently found in women’s graves at the Elsloo site.

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This sheds new light on the traditional idea that grave goods as personal items represent the daily life and gender of the deceased. These items turned out to be less gender-specific than previously thought.

Objects not linked to gender or age

The graves of the elderly, especially women, were richly furnished. There seems to be a certain status associated with age. There also seems to have been a “burial tradition” with specific grave goods and rituals, often related to hunting, food preparation, woodworking and body decoration. For example, many of the deceased were sprinkled with red ochre.

Regardless of the gender and age of the deceased, almost all of the grave goods were used extensively. The items appear to be special vessels that belonged to relatives of the deceased and were deliberately placed in the grave. This gives a good impression of the role and choices of the living and the rituals surrounding death. The research reveals a subtle difference in the roles of prehistoric men as hunters, shepherds, warriors and builders, and women as caretakers and potters.

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The oldest known burial site in the Netherlands

The Neolithic burial site at Elsloo belonged to the Linear Pottery culture, the first farming communities in the Netherlands and large parts of Europe more than 7,000 years ago. The Elsloo burial site is the oldest known burial site in the Netherlands (ca. 5100-4950 BC).

The finds have since been in the care of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. A selection of finds from the burial site will be on display at the Historiehuis van de Maasvallei in Elsloo for one year from June 24, 2022.

Leiden University. 30 Haziran 2022.


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