COLLOQUIUM: Ann Steiner, F&M, "Finding Women in the Archaeological Record: A Case Study from Northern Etruria"

Thursday, February 11, 2016 - 4:30pm to 6:00pm

402 Cohen Hall

Evidence for the activities of women in archaeological contexts is often hypothesized when classes of artifacts assumed to be the possessions of women—jewelry – or evidence of their work – weaving tools-- appear.  The unreliability of this type of knee-jerk gendering of artifacts is clear, however, when considering material in tombs where human remains are anthropologically sexed.  So-called “women’s” grave goods appear in male graves and vice versa.  

This talk reviews some current methodologies for gendering artifacts more reliably—starting with a rigorous assessment of material from a significant sample of sexed graves, discovering how categories of evidence are gendered or not, and applying the conclusions to discover women in non-funerary, ritual contexts. 

The material recovered in 21 excavation seasons at Poggio Colla in N. Etruria (700-200 B.C.E.) includes extensive evidence for dedications and religious activity, including   female activity in textile production, dedications, some surely by women, of luxury goods, and a likely cult focus on a female divinity.    In addition, commensality is represented by several contexts that include vessels for drinking and eating in both plain locally made ware, and a smaller percentage of imported black gloss drinking cups.  Material from a substantial cemetery in the same region includes more than 150 tombs, for half of which anthropologists have sexed the human remains.  Grave groups reveal that   different black gloss drinking vessel shapes are strongly correlated to women and men.  The fact that these same vessels exist in the repertory of commensal shapes excavated at Poggio Colla provides intriguing hints for yet another facet of women’s participation in ritual activity at the sanctuary.

This kind of evidence helps to develop a more nuanced picture of the roles of women in elite Etruscan society, one that complement sand corrects the extreme interpretations of their status and behavior as registered by Greek and Roman writers.