Discovery of female bones at Stonehenge indicative of ancient gender equality

In what some are hailing as evidence of gender equality in ancient cultures, archaeologists have discovered the cremated remains of 14 women buried alongside their male counterparts at Stonehenge, indicating that they likely were viewed as having equal social status.

According to BBC News and the New York Times, the discovery was made by Christie Willis, a PhD student at University College London, and her colleagues during an excavation at “Aubrey Hole 7,” one of 56 excavation sites dug on the outskirts of the prehistoric British monument.

The excavation uncovered the remains of nine men along with 14 women, all of whom were believed to have been buried between 3100 BCE and 2140 BCE. Willis and her colleagues also found long bone pins believed to have been used as hairpins during their dig, which was detailed in the latest issue of the magazine British Archaeology.

The discovery runs contradictory to excavations at older Neolithic tombs in southern England, where a significantly higher ratio of adult males were found, said BBC News. Willis’s team said that their findings indicate that there was a “surprising degree of gender equality” in the culture responsible for creating the Wiltshire site.

‘Women were as prominent as men’ at Stonehenge

During her investigation, Willis sorted through nearly 100 pounds (45 kg) of bone fragments to determine which part of the skeleton each came from, as well as the age and the sex of the person from which they came. Nine were male and 14 female, she said.

According to the Daily Mail, the researchers estimated the sex of each remain on the basis of the ear canal, which is found within the petrous bone – a dense, sturdy bone that is typically still identifiable after cremation. Then they used CT scans to revealed the lateral angle of the internal acoustic canal, which provided them with enough data to determine the sex of the remains.

She told BBC News that the remains had previously been dug up and reburied in Aubrey Hole 7 in the hopes that they would eventually undergo in-depth analysis. The archaeologists noted that their work had taken a total of four years, and that the bone fragments were sent to universities in Oxford and Glasgow to undergo radiocarbon dating.

“In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women,” Mike Pitts, an archaeologist and the editor of British Archaeology, told Discovery News on Wednesday. “The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men.”


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