According to researchers, DNA analysis of a mysterious body a buried in women’s clothes with swords revealed Klinefelter syndrome, where men are born with an extra chromosome.
A modern view of an Iron Age Finnish grave has challenged traditional notions of gender roles in ancient societies and suggested that non-binary people could actually have risen to prominence.
DNA analysis of remains found in Suontaka in Hattula, southern Finland, concluded that they may have belonged to an elevated non-binary person, according to a peer-reviewed study in the European Journal of Archaeology.
For decades, it has been assumed that two bodies, a man and a woman, had been buried in the Suontaka grave, found in 1968. Inside the grave, jewellery typical of a contemporary women’s attire, such as oval brooches and woollen clothing, was found. At the same time, it contained attributes associated with masculinity, including a hiltless sword.
However, recent DNA analysis suggested that the grave held the remains of only one person, who apparently had the rare Klinefelter syndrome. The syndrom affects one in about 660 men who are born with an extra copy of the X chromosome (XXY). Males with the syndrome are still genetically male, but the condition could cause enlarged breasts, a small penis and testicles as well as a low sex drive and infertility.
The high-status burial and the overall context of the grave indicates that it was a respected person whose gender identity may well have been non-binary, the researchers concluded.
According to the crew, the findings challenge the idea that “in the ultramasculine environment of early medieval Scandinavia, men with feminine social roles and men dressing in feminine clothes were disrespected and considered shameful”.
“The buried individual seems to have been a highly respected member of their community,” the study’s leading author Ulla Moilanen an archaeologist from the University of Turku, told The Guardian. “They were laid in the grave on a soft feather blanket with valuable furs and objects.”
One of the interpretations, however, is that the person may also have been accepted as a non-binary “because they already had a distinctive or secured position in the community for other reasons”, such as coming from a wealthy or influential family or being a shaman, the researchers concluded.