Just over 50 years ago, remains of a warrior armed with a sword were discovered in southern Finland. Archeologists recently took a second look at this evidently well-respected individual, discovering that they appear to have had an extra X chromosome (XXY) and “may well have been non-binary.”
The findings were recently published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Archaeology.
Radiocarbon dating shows that the body was likely buried between 1040 to 1174 CE in a grave near Suontaka, in the modern-day Finnish municipality of Hattula. Among the many discoveries of this new study, the researchers found that only one sword actually belonged to the original burial setting. The other, which is more ornate and precious, was likely buried at the site at a later date.
The body was dressed in typical female clothing of the time – but also alongside two swords, which is often (although not always) associated with masculinity in many pre-modern European cultures.
To get a deeper understanding of this person, a team from the University of Turku, the University of Helsinki, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology carried out ancient DNA analysis of the remains. The DNA was significantly damaged, but the findings suggest the buried individual might have been born with the sex-chromosomal aneuploidy XXY, known as Klinefelter syndrome.
“According to current data, it is likely that the individual found in Suontaka had the chromosomes XXY, although the DNA results are based on a very small set of data,” postdoctoral researcher and study author Elina Salmela from the University of Helsinki said in a press release.
Klinefelter syndrome is a genetic condition where males are born with an extra X chromosome. Symptoms are often subtle, and some people don't even realize they have the condition. The primary characteristics are infertility and small testicles. Other symptoms include increased height, broad hips, reduced muscle mass, reduced body hair, a small penis, and the development of breasts. Some people with the condition also experience difficulty socializing or expressing thoughts.
As 21st century people looking back at an early Medieval culture, it's extremely hard to discern how this person perceived themselves or how they were defined by the wider social setting, the researchers point out. Nevertheless, it’s clear this individual was well-respected within the community, as shown by the care and honor of their burial.
“If the characteristics of the Klinefelter syndrome have been evident on the person, they might not have been considered strictly a female or a male in the Early Middle Ages community. The abundant collection of objects buried in the grave is a proof that the person was not only accepted but also valued and respected. However, biology does not directly dictate a person's self-identity," explained Ulla Moilanen, study author and Doctoral Candidate of Archaeology from the University of Turku.