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New analysis reveals that the “Ivory Man” was actually a woman

by News Staff
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New research published in Scientific Reports challenges previous assumptions about the highest-ranking figure in ancient Copper Age society in Iberia. Contrary to earlier beliefs, it appears that the most esteemed individual in this society was not a man but a woman. Peptide analysis conducted on the remains, which are now referred to as the “Ivory Lady,” has shed light on this groundbreaking revelation. The burial site discovered in Valencina, Spain in 2008 has been found to contain an exceptional collection of rare and precious items, surpassing any other in the region. Among the remarkable artifacts found within the tomb are ivory tusks, exquisite flint tools, ostrich eggshell, amber, and a striking dagger crafted from rock crystal. These remarkable findings provide compelling evidence of the prominent status that women could attain within this ancient society. Initially presumed to be a young male aged between 17 and 25 years, the individual’s gender has now been corrected, highlighting the significant role women played in the social hierarchy during the Copper Age period, which spanned from 3,200 to 2,200 years ago.

Individual buried in the lower level of the structure 10.049, and main artifacts deposited around the body. Credit: Miriam Lucianez Trivino.

In the study conducted by Marta Cintas-Peña and her team, a groundbreaking technique called amelogenin peptide analysis was employed to examine the teeth of the specimen. This method aimed to identify the presence of amelogenin, a protein involved in enamel formation that exhibits sexual dimorphism. The analysis specifically focused on a molar and an incisor from the remains. Astonishingly, the researchers detected the AMELX gene, responsible for producing amelogenin and located on the X chromosome. This remarkable finding conclusively revealed that the individual was indeed a female rather than a male, challenging the previously held belief. Such evidence underscores the crucial role of scientific advancements in reshaping our understanding of ancient societies and the positions of women within them.

Upper level of structure 10.049, and main artifacts included in the offering. Credit: Miriam Lucianez Trivino.

The authors of the study draw a remarkable conclusion from their findings: the most esteemed individual in Iberian Copper Age society was, in fact, a woman. This discovery challenges the previously held notion that high-ranking positions were exclusively held by men. The absence of valuable grave goods in infant burials further adds to the understanding that status was not automatically bestowed based on birthright during this era. Instead, the authors propose that the Ivory Lady attained her elevated position through personal merit and notable accomplishments during her lifetime. This revelation highlights the significance of individual achievements and underscores the potential for social mobility within ancient societies.

Structure of 10.049, plans of the lower and upper levels. Credit: Miriam Luciañez Triviño.

According to the authors’ report, no male individual of equivalent high status has been discovered thus far. A remarkable observation emerges from the fact that the sole comparable opulent burial site from the Copper Age in the region, housing a minimum of 15 women, was located adjacent to the tomb of the “Ivory Lady.” It is believed that this burial site was constructed by individuals who traced their lineage back to her. Such a compelling finding strongly implies that women held positions of leadership and authority within Iberian Copper Age society. This evidence challenges traditional notions of gender roles and power dynamics, highlighting the significant roles that women played in shaping the social and political landscape of that era.

Source: Nature Publishing Group

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