Reports have surfaced this week on several websites with news of a grave unearthed in the Czech Republic of what archeologists are saying appears to be a transgender woman.
The grave, found in a suburb of Prague, contained a skeleton that, while anatomically male, was buried in the traditional manner of a woman. The UK LGBT news site Pink News reports that the skeleton and grave are thought to be about 5,000 years old, dating from between 2900 and 2500 B.C., and is from the Corded Ware culture of the Copper Age.
Archaeologists say that males from that era are usually found buried facing west, with their weapons interred with them. But this skeleton was buried in the manner reserved for women: facing east and surrounded by domestic jugs.
Pink News quotes Kamila Remišová, the head of the research team, as saying: “From history and ethnology, we know that when a culture had strict burial rules they never made mistakes with these sort of things.”
Pink News also notes that this isn’t the first discovery of the prehistoric grave of an apparent transgender person: a female skeleton from the Mesolithic Period was found buried with weapons.
What surprises me about this news report isn’t that transgender people existed 5,000 years ago, but that some people appear to be so surprised at the idea. Despite all the talk these days of “traditional values,” the fact is many ancient cultures had very different ideas about gender and sexuality than today’s society. And those who were outside “the norm” (I don’t mean they weren’t normal, just that they were different from the majority) were, instead of being reviled and cast out, were seen as holy people with sacred duties.
Individuals who did not identified and lived as a gender other than their biological gender have been documented in numerous Native American cultures. The Europeans who first came to the New World called these people Berdache. But because of the origins of that word — possibly it came from a French word for male prostitute, or maybe from an Arabic word for slave — most people now use the term “Two Spirits.” (You can read about that here at GLBTQ.com, an online LGBT encyclopedia.)
Indigenous cultures often had less defined gender roles. While most women took care of home and family, there were always women who took on more male roles. In fact, women were often the most fierce warriors in some cultures, including the Cherokee and the Apache.
Among the Cherokee, the women were warriors right alongside the men. Cherokee society was matrilineal, and although the chiefs were always men, the women are the ones who rules the households and owned all the property. When they split with a mate, the woman was the one who kept everything. The Cherokee tribes also had wise women, or “beloved” women, who held positions of great authority. One famous Cherokee beloved woman was Nan’yehi, or Nancy Ward, a celebrated warrior and advisor to her tribe.
Among the Apaches, known as some of the fiercest warriors of the Southwest, two of the greatest warriors were women.
Lozen, sister of Chiracahua Apache Chief Victorio, was famous among her people as a warrior, shaman and seer. Victorio refused to go into battle without her at his side, and not before she had performed a ritual using her powers as a seer to tell where and how strong enemy forces were. He never lost a battle with her at his side, but the one time Lozen was away on a mission, escorting a pregnant woman home to her own tribe, Victorio and his warriors were forced into battle and the chief was killed. Lozen then went to fight with the famous Apache chief Geronimo and she and another famous female warrior, Dahteste or Tah-des-Tse, were considered Geronimo’s closest advisors and fiercest fighters.
Lozen at an early age made it clear she had no interest in being a wife or mother and early on chose the path of a warrior. Dahteste, considered the most beautiful woman in her tribe, was a wife and a mother, but that didn’t stop her from being able to out-ride, out-run, out-shoot and out-fight all the other men and women.
So, you’re probably wondering what’s up with the history lesson. Well, other than the fact that I have always been fascinated by the stories of Lozen and Dahteste, I wanted to point out again that what some folks want to call “traditional values” and “traditional gender roles” are really very recent traditions, all things considered. And I, for one, prefer to adhere to some different traditions.
I would say that I also did it to maybe educate some of the idiots of the world, like those who posted comments to FoxNews.com’s post on the grave in Prague, first of all to let them know that transgender is NOT the same thing as gay or lesbian, and that yes, indeed Virginia, LGBTS really have existed throughout the history of humankind. But I doubt any of them will read this, and even if they do, they won’t believe it. Even though it’s the truth.