A new study of remains found at Stonehenge suggests that women's and men’s roles in ancient Britain might not have been as separate as we thought, particularly among their society’s elite.
The findings were recently reported in the March/April 2016 edition of British Archaeology magazine, although the dig took place back in 2008.
During the dig, the researchers sifted through 45 kilograms (99 pounds) of cremated bone fragments. To the archaeologists' surprise, they discovered that the remains contained 14 females and just nine males.
The researchers identified the gender of the remains by performing CT scans on the petrous bone, found at the base of the skull near the inner ear. Subtle differences in this tough bone can be used to identify a skeleton’s gender, as it’s so dense it tends to remain intact even after ancient cremation processes.
Christie Willis, a Ph.D. student at University College London who worked on the project, told Western Daily Press that this showed a “surprising degree of gender equality.”
There’s a standing theory that the iconic site in Wiltshire, England, functioned as a ritual burial site for the elites at some point between 3100 BCE and 2140 BCE. The finding of males and females together in this place helps to cement the idea that women – or at least a strong proportion of the elite women – were considered equal in social status with their male counterparts.
Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology, told Discovery News: “Anyone buried at Stonehenge is likely to have been special in some way: high status families, possessors of special skills or knowledge, ritual or political leaders.
“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,” he added. “The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men.”