Last Updated 18 Apr 2017

Social Differentiation

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Gender of human remains can show social differentiation in a variety of different ways. One such factor is damage on the bones may indicate the job of the deceased, for example, signs of osteoarthritis in the Canadian Inuits jaws and right hands indicate that they were sewing skins.

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. However, these lesions may have been created by post depositional factors. Another evaluative point is that these remains do not prove that all males hunted and all females sewed - it only proves that women had bad teeth.

The layout of graves also show social differentiation as evidence at Skara Brae shows us; bodies of two females, interred in stone-built graves, were discovered beneath the right hand bed and wall. It was apparent that the females had been buried there before the house was constructed and their presence could have signified some sort of foundation ritual. However, this may also signify that this area was their domain in life. Social differentiation can also be identified through the age of the deceased.

At West Kennet, DNA analysis on the bones has shown that 46 individuals were disarticulated into various transepts in the tomb. The bones were sorted into not only by gender, but also age; infant, young adult and elderly, suggesting that each age group had a specific role within the society. To a certain extent grave goods can tell us a lot about social differentiation based on gender. Rich male graves are often interpreted in terms of what he earned whereas when a woman is found which rich grave goods they are often attributed to her father or husband.

Women having their own status is not considered a lot within archaeology. In inhumations, if women over a certain age have certain grave goods, and the younger ones do not it can be argued that those goods represent the dowry exchanged in marriage. A reoccurring theme from the Bronze Age onwards is that women were regularly buried with pins, necklaces and bracelets however, the interpretation that this was a dowry is not always correct as DNA analysis [ARCH 2] at West Hazelton showed some females were buried with weapons and some males were buried with jewellery and so the grave goods may indicate achieved status.

Until recently, the sexing of burials relied on grave goods. Jewellery without weapons was expected in female graves and so was used to define these graves. However, the problem with this method is that they might not be compatible with modern society’s biased view on male and female belongings such as the Birdlip Burial. Along with the deceased, this contained a mirror and jewellery and it was thought to be a rich princess’s grave or that of Boudicca herself, however, recent examination and CAT scans of the skull shows that it has masculine traits which contrasts with the original interpretation.

The assemblage is also notable in that the artefacts had all been broken and a vessel had been placed over the face of the dead and so it is thought that it may have been a male shaman and not a princess. Grave goods can show achieved or ascribed status which is also shown with the age of the body. Vedbaek Bodbakken shows a child buried on a swans wing and other natural objects such as amber along with its mother. The age of the infant and the mother who was only believed to be about 18 has helped to interpret the grave as one of a wife or daughter of a chief.

The grave is thought to be such high status because of the effort and time placed into the burial and ascribed status because the child had not had time to earn it themselves. One problem with using the age is there is a lack of younger burials, high infant mortality rates and so are disregarded. For example the presence of 97 baby inhumations at a brothel at a Roman Villa in Thames Valley shows that the Romans did not consider children to be human until they reached a certain age.

The layout of a settlement can help to show social differentiation through gender and age because of the views of modern archaeologists. For example at Skara Brae each of the eight dwellings found have the same basic layout - a large room, with a fireplace in the middle, a bed on either side and a dresser facing the entrance. However, the right hand bed is always larger that than the left hand bed which has led some archaeologists, including one of the site's main excavators, Gordon Childe, to speculate that the layout of the village is gendered - right being male and left being female.

Beads and paintpots were also found on some of the smaller beds - lending to the gendered theory. Also, House 7 in Skara Brae appears very much like the other houses in the community, however, several distinctive features have led archaeologists and historians to interpret that it played a unique part in village life. The house is isolated from the main part of the village and access is gained down a side-passage, it is also the only house in the village in which the door was barred from the outside, not the inside.

The bodies of two females, interred in stone-built graves, were discovered beneath the right hand bed and wall. It was apparent that the females had been buried there before the house was constructed and their presence could have signified some sort of foundation ritual

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