Ancient Persians recognised at least three genders according to a recent study of graves from a 3,000-year-old civilisation.
The research discovered the Persians buried in the graves did not hold to the gender binary, also arguing previous archaeological studies have been affected by viewing their findings through a western lens, in terms of gender and sex.
In fact, the study claims gender binary is culture specific meaning many past civilisations did not hold to it.
According to Haaretz, Professor Megan Cifarelli, of Manhattanville College, has analysed numerous graves from Hasanlu, north-western Iran, to back her study’s claims.
Around 3,000 years ago, Hasanlu was frequently visited by competing armies who burnt the city down, leading to it being abandoned 2,800 years ago.
Discovering the undisturbed graves located on the site, archaeologists have studied the bodies and accompanying possessions buried there in detail.
Analysing the studies these various archaeologists carried out, Cifarelli realised the reports classified the graves as being either male or female, depending upon what possessions were buried with the body.
However, Cifarelli discovered 20 per cent of the graves had a mixture of male and female objects in them.
This implies the people who lived in Hasanlu 3,000 years ago either believed in a third gender or saw gender as a spectrum, rather than binary.
For example, one of the objects Cifarelli refers to is a golden bowl which depicts a bearded person performing ‘what is thought of as female roles’.
Speaking to IFL Science, Cifarelli explained while she is yet to publish her findings, she has presented them at numerous conferences and lectures.
Her hope is to incorporate the responses she receives from other experts before submitting her research for publication.
Cifarelli added the responses from the academic conferences have been positive .
Many archaeologists studying American cultures are aware some Native American civilisations also recognised more than two genders, but Cifarelli’s claims are a new interpretation in the study of Middle Eastern cultures.
However, she points to ‘the third gender hijras’, which have been recognised by the supreme court of India, as an example of the way Asian cultures also respected gender diversity.
That was until European colonisers suppressed these ideas.
Cifarelli realises not everyone will agree with her findings, but argues archaeologists need to look again at the way they analyse graves.
In cases where there are incomplete bones, graves have been determined as being male or female based on the possessions discovered within them.
So if the grave included a weapon it was seen as being male, but if the item was more domestic the grave was classified as being female.
Speaking to IFL Science, Cifarelli said:
This has been replaced with a medical model, looking at bodies as being sexable via scientific methods. However, for a large percentage of the population we can’t tell.
People think I must be a crusading radical, pushing contemporary identity politics into the past, but I’m actually trying to lift the weight of 19th-century identity politics.
Cifarelli understands she is facing an uphill battle though as one man told her at a public event ‘it’s easy to tell the sex of a dead body, women have an extra rib’.
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.