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Assumptions and Misunderstandings

I stumbled across something earlier this week and immediately thought, ooh! I can use this for research! My second thought was something else, though. The article on social media had trumpeted that a grave was excavated containing ‘Three Amazon Warrior Women’ to paraphrase the headline. There was a grave. In Russia. And it had been partly robbed. There was, I commented, nothing Amazonian whatsoever about the site. Warriors? Maybe. The problem is that there’s a definite bias to reporting of such finds, because feminism. Which robs the real power of the legacy these women have left in their death rites. It’s not that they may have fought alongside the men. It’s certainly not that they were fighting the patriarchy. We don’t know enough about their culture to make those assumptions. Women of their time and place may not have known a patriarchy existed, or cared if it did. Transposing modern mores and concerns onto the bones and artifacts simply serves to obscure and confuse the real data we can pull from the traces of the past.

As a storyteller, though, the graves of our ancestors are rich with inspiration. This one lends itself well to the art of speculation. Women buried in a low mound on the Scythian steppes. Members of the people who have sometimes been called the Horse Lords. One of the women was buried in a pose mimicking horseback riding, and she was buried with a mirror, and two spears. Another, older woman, was buried with an ornate gold headdress. The last two women laid into this grave are more obscure, having been scattered by the grave robbers of antiquity who spoiled their rest in search of what they might use for gain. They, too, have stories, but we may never know them because their graves were undoubtedly shallower, ephemeral, and obscure. This one, however, which is comparable to other ‘royal’ burials, still remains to tell us stories and set our minds to wandering. Four women, ranging in age from early teens to possibly grandmotherly. One a princess by virtue of her crown, another a warrior by her weapons. A horse lay in the entrance to their last dwelling constructed from oak timbers and clay. It was probably an impressive thing to see in their time. (read the whole dig report here. I used google translate, as it is in Russian)

I discovered as I scrolled down on that site they have a map with pins in it, and if you click on one of those markers, it will transport you to another archaeological site. I was delighted to discover there are some in Siberia, which is very useful to me as I have been working on a novel in that setting. The translations are a little rough, but not unreadable, and the photos require no interpretation to bring a place to life in my mind. Technology goes far beyond photos these days, and can illuminate where there is no light.

And I have to go. My father-in-law is in a bad way. Sorry to run off, but I’ll leave you with two more tidbits for story-building.

What if Columbus was right?

and Does your chewing gum lose it’s flavor if you leave it in mud for nearly 6000 years?

Header image: headdress on skull of woman in Barrow 9

21 Comments
  1. Reziac #

    My first thought was probably those were her father’s and/or husband’s spears — since he couldn’t go with her into the afterlife, he tried to send along *some* protection. After all, grave goods are not necessarily just stuff owned by the deceased.

    January 11, 2020
    • Given her posture (which had to be artificially created by altering the corpse postmortem) I suspect they are more significant than just that. I did wonder if she was a guardswoman for the ‘princess’ given the ages. Also, no manner of death is given for the four of them, and sacrifice of servants/family on death is by no means uncommon in past burial rituals.

      January 11, 2020
  2. I’d wonder if the woman with the spears was indeed some sort of guard, perhaps a form of Home Guard. Some steppe nomadic cultures had women who took on the role of herd guards when the men were away, as well as some who were archers. So it could well be that the weapons were hers, and were not ritual weapons. The archaeologists and forensics people will have to look at her bones for signs of training injuries and over-development of muscles to tell.

    If memory serves, female shaman and spiritual warriors were not all that rare in a variety of Eurasian cultures, so that’s another possibility.

    Or it could be that she was an ordinary servant woman or free woman, perhaps a little stronger than some, who one night to her dismay was visited by the tribal Ancestors and given a geas, a special new duty of physical defender of a spiritual warrior. She didn’t want the duty, but tribal safety and serving the Ancestors overrode her personal desires, and . . .

    January 11, 2020
    • There should be a word for tricking people into reading a plot bunny at the end of a seemingly innocuous comment, like rickrolling.

      Writerolling?

      January 11, 2020
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        The phrase is ‘active participation on a writing blog’. German apparently does a bunch of extremely long compound words, so that is an option.

        January 11, 2020
        • Blogteilnahmeaktivität. 🙂

          And if you want some real fun: Blogteilnahmeaktivitätsplotbunnyeinfanggefahr. (The danger of catching a plotbunny while actively participating in a blog.)

          January 11, 2020
          • Randy Wilde #

            The real danger is if two fertile plotbunnies get together and start breeding.

            January 12, 2020
            • Or the cute little ones that look like a novelette at worst, then bring their family and friends and turn trilogy on you.

              Looks at that 300K first volume of several.

              Just well I don’t need to think about publishing, markeability and all that right now, since I don’t make a living by writing. At least it’s fun writing that monster. 😆

              January 12, 2020
              • Mary #

                Well, I do have a fond feeling for the plot bunny that snuck up pretending to be a novelette because it was the first time I managed to write a novel after several tries.

                January 12, 2020
            • Mary #

              Have you ever met a sterile plot bunny?

              True, sometimes they have trouble finding mates. Those ones can hang around for YEARS. (“Magic of the Lost God” — I wrote that in my thirties, but the first plot bunny for it showed up in my TEENS.)

              January 12, 2020
          • Danke! Das geht.

            [Thanks! That works.]

            January 12, 2020
      • Mary #

        reading

        on account of those crafty plot bunnies being able to insinuate themselves anywhere in the written word

        January 11, 2020
    • Eric Hinkle #

      I remember that sometimes those women had to fight not to protect the herds, important as they were, but themselves and their daughters. Apparently wife-stealing was the normal way of finding a spouse in old Central Asia. It was accepted if not very popular (I wonder how many bragging husbands got knifed in their sleep by the bride), but it got nasty fast when the nomads ran up against ‘dirtmen’ farmers and other settled people.

      January 11, 2020
      • Bride-stealing in.practice, and outside wartime, seems to have been mostly pre-arranged, and used as a method of setting up household without brideprice, dowry, or big wedding festivities and expense. Because nomads didn’t want hard feelings making life worse In the camp, or.making tribes war against each other.

        In early Frankish culture, it was a way that an established family could “sponsor” a bright but poor or family-less young man without adopting him, or how said young man could marry “above his station” until he could back it up with war loot, cattlebreeding, etc. The downside was less legal protection for both sides when/if the marriage broke up; but early Frankish marriage was weird already.

        January 12, 2020
        • Eric Hinkle #

          Thanks for sharing that!

          I also remember reading that at least some cases of ‘bride-snatching’ in history were done with the connivance of the woman, who preferred marrying a dashing young fellow rather than most likely, a man much older than her. Or so suggested at least one book on life in the border towns in medieval Castile.

          January 12, 2020
          • Mary #

            When you read about a law that a woman can forgive and marry her rapist — be sure to check whether the law in that era actually requires her to not consent before it was rape.

            January 12, 2020
            • Eric Hinkle #

              I will.

              From what I remember in the book, it was emphasized that in the Middle Ages ‘rape’ could mean ‘abduction’ as well as assault. Apparently the real problem with an affianced young woman (or man) running off was it breaking all sorts of legal and financial agreements between their families. And given that Castilian border towns were so desperate for young fighting men that they gave full amnesty for past crimes if you settled in one, it seemed that a lot of ‘abducted’ women and their kidnapper lived in them.

              January 12, 2020
  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    I recently read a book by Adrienne Mayor titled “The Amazons: Lives And Legends Of Warrior Women Across The Ancient World”.

    It was an interesting read and wasn’t “Woke”.

    January 11, 2020
    • Eric Hinkle #

      A non-‘woke’/politically charged book on Amazons? I may have to check that one out. Thanks for mentioning it.

      January 11, 2020
      • It’s good. She’s very up front about what is fact, what is probable, and what is closer to definite-maybe.

        January 12, 2020
        • I’m definitely going to pick that up. Thanks!

          January 12, 2020

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