Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Beads = Female ???

Posted by Jeroen on the Bladesmith's Forum:
A rare view of a burial including a longsax (or transitional), with scabbard fittings in situ: http://benedante.blo...r-grave-at.html

Longsax scabbard remains are pretty rare (I only know of one other example on top of my head), so this is is a great find! Hopefully there will be some cleaned photos of the scabbard mounts. Also interesting to see is the sword, which apparently had a fully organic hilt. Another interesting thing are the beads. I'd expect beads in a female grave, so is this a female warrior or just a man wearing a necklace? The dating they gave is too early, and should be around 700AD.
"Frankish warrior's grave of c. 600 CE uncovered during excavations for the TGV train tracks in Alsace"

 It was pointed out in a comment by Scott :
... from the comments at the bottom of the link it looks like there was a mistake in how the pictures were assembled.  The beads are apparently from a different grave.
"Collar or necklace of glass beads."

 First point might be that the source is from the internet, and further from an individual's personal blog. So the images might have come from anywhere, and the descriptive text is quite limited (!!)

The concept of beads = female is very much a 'Victorian' frame of reference. In the past graves were sex determined with a simple weapon = male / bead = female method. As archaeologists have (finally) gotten a bit more careful, this (largely male) point of view has been questioned.
The majority of at least Viking Age Scandinavian graves (the only cultural set I can speak too with any real knowledge) that contain beads have very few individual beads. Something like 3 - 5 as an average. Bearing in mind that every grave find with a full string can really throw that average, its just more typical that any grave many only have one or two beads found. This really means you have to question using beads as a sex determiner.
The position of an beads, and more importantly the possible inclusion of broaches is actually more significant. Beads found in what suggests a line across the chest are likely to have been supported between broaches - a use pattern that is certainly female use. A bead string (or a couple of beads) found around the neck can not realistically be used in isolation to determine sex of the individual.
There are some graves that from the bone evidence are females, but also contain weapons.
Of interest here would also be some graves from Finland that have larger knives with elaborate sheet or cast metal scabbard covers, the blades mounted to run in line with the belt. (Luistari #56, Eura, Satakunta, Finland)
Image scanned from 'Vikings - North Atlantic Saga' pg 111
 I know the thrust a the Bladesmith's Forum is an examination of the weapons in detail. But I do think it helps to have a larger picture of how weapons as objects were markers of social status especially. A sword included with a body might be telling a far more complex story that might be perceived at first glance...

I would most certainly refer readers to Neil Peterson's extensive research and data collection on the topic of glass beads in the Viking Age posted over on the DARC web site - HERE.

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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