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19 October 2014
Ancient male warriors showed signs of vanity

The most prominent burial artefacts in male graves in the Bronze Age were for grooming - razors made of bronze, tweezers, and an item possibly used for manicuring. "We have found traces of beard hair and possibly eyebrows on the razors, so they probably removed hair from various parts of the body," says Lisbeth Skogstrand, an archaeologist who has taken a gender perspective on men's burial mounds. Her doctoral dissertation at the University of Oslo tries to show how masculinity in Scandinavia has changed during periods that lack a local written history. She has previously studied rock carvings from the same period. The motifs include men carrying weapons, and with oversized erections.
     Skogstrand bases her ideas on hundreds of finds from graves in Norway and Denmark, including nearly 200 cremation graves in eastern Norway. Her study spans 1,500 years, from the Early Nordic Bronze Age from 1100-500 years BCE until 400 CE, during the late Roman Period, which was part of the Early Iron Age in Northern Europe.
     Skogstrand says the finds show that being a warrior was not always the ideal. Men were buried with weapons particularly during a short span of the Roman Period, around 200 CE. Half of the men's graves she studied in this period contained spears, shields and other iron weapons. Women of the time were buried with tools such as scissors, knives and spindles. "The ideal of the man as a warrior did not last long. Over the course of the 3rd century the warrior nearly disappears from the graves," says Skogstrand.
     Julie Lund, an associate professor of archaeology at the University of Oslo, thinks Skogstrand raises some legitimate questions. "There has been too little focus on male roles in archaeology. When researchers have studied gender they have been more concerned about women," she says.
     Scandinavian prehistory has a blank spot in the last 500 years BCE where Skogstrand cannot determine anything about changes in masculine ideals. The graves from this period contain few artefacts. Perhaps the razors were no longer included as grave goods for some other reason than a change in fashion. Skogstrand points out, for instance, that shaving could have become so common that the elite no longer deemed razors a status symbol.
     Men and women were buried with the same type of objects in the younger graves that Skogstrand studied, from 200 CE to 400 CE - an indication that gender became less important, while social status gained significance - the tools that men and women were buried with varied according to how costly the graves were.

Edited from ScienceNordic (3 October 2014)

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