A team of researchers announces that they have identified the remains of a woman buried around 6,500 years ago among exclusively male individuals in one of the Stone Age cemeteries in Fleury-sur-Orne, Normandy. Several “symbolically masculine” arrowheads accompanied the remains. Who was she?
A mysterious woman among men
The Neolithic cemetery of Fleury-sur-Orne, near Caen, has been known since the 1960s. Archaeologists attribute the burial mounds in the region to the Neolithic culture of Cerny. Several other such cemeteries have also been discovered hundreds of kilometers away in the Paris Basin region to the southeast.
That being said, the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) has been carrying out new excavations on the Fleury site since 2014. However, this work has revealed several tombs and other monuments, including the longest tumulus ever discovered in Europe (372 meters long).
In a more recent study, researchers from the University of Bordeaux had access to samples of human remains in one of these tumuli (large mounds of earth that covered the graves). Of the nineteen human graves contained inside, the team was able to analyze the DNA of fourteen individuals, one of which was a woman, which did not fail to surprise the experts.
Indeed, if we know that the region of Fleury and that of the Paris basin visibly shared a common culture, the researchers noted some local differences, in particular on funerary questions. While men and women were buried in almost equal numbers in the Paris Basin, the Fleury-sur-Orne cemetery was almost exclusively male. But then, who was this woman? And why was she buried among all these men?
A hunter considered by her peers?
It is currently difficult to know what kind of life she led, where she came from or what her true status was. We do know, however, that this woman was buried with arrowheads, a type of artifact considered exclusively male. It is not known, however, if only the flint arrowheads were placed in the tomb or if they were originally attached to wooden rods which have since rotted.
That said, the researchers thus support the idea that she should have been considered a man, at least symbolically, which would have resulted in her being buried on the spot. “We believe that these male artefacts place her beyond her biological sexual identity”, specifies Maïté Rivollat, main author of the study. “It implies the idea that the incarnation of the male sex in death was necessary for it to access burial in these gigantic structures. »
Furthermore, previous studies on the cemeteries of Cerny in the Paris basin also distinguish a particular category of individuals buried with arrows, quivers and possibly bows, thus perhaps identifying them as hunters. These studies showed that these individuals were always male. Could this woman buried in the cemetery of Fleury-sur-Orne also have been considered a hunter by her community?
Scientific work in progress, such as its isotopic analysis, could in any case teach us more about its diet and its geographical origins.