A recent study published in the European Journal of Archaeology has shed new light on the remains of a sword-wielding warrior found in southern Finland over 50 years ago. The reexamination of the body has led researchers to believe that the individual may have been non-binary and had an additional X chromosome (XXY).
Radiocarbon testing has suggested that the body was buried close to Suontaka, in the present-day Finnish municipality of Hattula, between 1040 and 1174 CE. The researchers concluded that only one blade genuinely belonged to the original burial site, while the other, which was more elaborate and priceless, was probably interred at the location in the future.
Along with the two swords, which are frequently associated with masculinity in pre-modern European societies, the body was dressed in normal feminine clothes of the era.
To learn more about the individual, a group from the Universities of Turku, Helsinki, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology examined the ancient DNA of the remains. The DNA was severely damaged, but the researchers found that the buried person may have been born with the Klinefelter syndrome-associated sex-chromosomal aneuploidy XXY.
Klinefelter syndrome is a genetic disorder that affects males, and those born with it have an extra X chromosome. The symptoms are often modest, and some people may not even know they have the ailment. Infertility and tiny testicles are the main traits, and additional signs include increasing height, wide hips, decreased body hair, diminished muscular mass, a tiny penis, and the emergence of breasts. Some sufferers may also have trouble expressing themselves verbally or in social situations.
The researchers noted that it is quite challenging for modern people studying an early Medieval civilization to understand how the individual saw themselves or how they fit into the larger social context. However, it is clear from the care and respect given to their burial that this person was well-liked in the neighborhood.
According to Ulla Moilanen, study author and doctoral candidate in archaeology at the University of Turku, “If the Klinefelter syndrome traits were clearly visible on the person, they might not have been strictly classified as a girl or a man in the Early Middle Ages community. The large number of items found in the tomb serves as evidence that the deceased was not only accepted but also valued and respected. However, a person’s self-identity is not solely determined by their biology.”
The study highlights the importance of examining historical evidence with a modern perspective to better understand the diverse identities and experiences of people throughout history. It is a reminder that gender and sex are not binary, and individuals have always existed outside of traditional gender norms.