New Research Reveals Ancient Spanish Tomb Belonged to a Woman, Not a Man

by Lucas Garcia
archaeological discovery

In a fascinating discovery, archaeologists have unveiled that a lavishly adorned tomb in ancient Spain, previously assumed to be meant for a man, actually belonged to a woman. The tomb, dating back 5,000 years, contained remarkable artifacts such as a rock crystal dagger, ivory tusks, and other opulent items. Surprisingly, this groundbreaking revelation was made possible by examining just two teeth.

Utilizing a novel technique that analyzes tooth enamel, the researchers successfully determined the sex of the individual. This innovative method, developed approximately five years ago, proves to be more reliable than assessing skeletal remains in a deteriorated state. The findings of their study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

While many aspects of the life of the individual, affectionately dubbed the “Ivory Lady,” remain shrouded in mystery, some hints have emerged. The fact that she was interred alone in a tomb containing exceptionally unique artifacts suggests that she held a special status.

Located a few miles west of Seville, near the southern coast of Spain, the tomb was excavated in 2008. Initially, archaeologists believed it to be the burial site of a young man, based on the examination of poorly preserved bones and the presence of precious items such as ostrich eggshells, amber, tusks, and the aforementioned dagger, all indicative of a high social standing.

The newly employed technique identifies chemical distinctions in tooth enamel between males and females and can be employed even in cases where complete DNA is unavailable.

“This research provides further evidence challenging established historical narratives,” remarked Alison Beach, a historian at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, who was not involved in the study. The revelation “demonstrates that it’s not an absolute truth that men have always been the most revered or held the highest authority.”

Maintaining a comprehensive database of Copper Age burials across the Iberian Peninsula, which encompasses Spain and Portugal, Marta Cintas-Pena, a co-author and archaeologist at the University of Seville, has compiled records for 1,723 individuals from 21 distinct archaeological sites. According to Garcia Sanjuan, “The Ivory Lady’s burial stands out, head and shoulders, above everyone else — there is absolutely no known male or female burial that compares to hers.”

In the years following the Ivory Lady’s burial, newer graves were constructed in close proximity, yet always maintaining a buffer zone of approximately 100 feet (30 meters). Roughly 80 years after her passing, individuals reentered her tomb and placed additional votive objects inside, including the crystal dagger.

Little is currently known about the social and political structure of the society to which she belonged. This civilization existed around the same time as the rise of the pharaohs in Egypt’s Nile River Valley and the construction of the first planned city on the banks of the Euphrates in Mesopotamia.

Katharina Rebay-Salisbury, an archaeologist at the University of Vienna in Austria and a co-author of the study, suggests that similar misidentifications may have occurred in other ancient tombs. She speculates that assumptions regarding gender, wealth, and prominence might need to be revisited, citing a recent case in which DNA analysis revealed that a decorated Viking warrior buried in Sweden was actually a woman.

“If we reevaluate past discoveries, we are likely to encounter more surprises,” Rebay-Salisbury remarked.

Follow Christina Larson on Twitter at @larsonchristina

The Big Big News Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about archaeological discovery

Q: What did the new research reveal about the ancient Spanish tomb?

A: The new research revealed that the lavishly adorned tomb, initially believed to be for a man, actually belonged to a woman. The determination was made through the analysis of tooth enamel using a reliable technique developed five years ago.

Q: What were some of the lavish items found in the tomb?

A: The tomb contained various opulent items, including a rock crystal dagger, ivory tusks, ostrich eggshells, and amber. These artifacts indicated that the individual held a high social status.

Q: How was the sex of the individual determined?

A: The researchers used a method that analyzes tooth enamel to detect differences in the chemistry between males and females. This technique proved more reliable than analyzing skeletal remains, especially in cases of poor preservation or when complete DNA is not available.

Q: What does the discovery of the woman’s tomb suggest about historical narratives?

A: The discovery challenges the notion that men have always been the most revered or held the highest authority. It provides evidence that women, too, could hold special status and prominence in ancient societies.

Q: What is known about the society the woman belonged to?

A: Little is currently known about the social and political structure of the society to which she belonged. However, it existed during the same period as the rise of the pharaohs in Egypt and the construction of the first planned city in Mesopotamia, indicating an intriguing historical context.

Q: Are there other ancient tombs that might have been misidentified?

A: The researchers suggest that similar misidentifications might have occurred in other ancient tombs. The recent case of a Viking warrior buried in Sweden, initially assumed to be male but later determined to be a woman through DNA analysis, serves as an example of the need to reevaluate past discoveries.

More about archaeological discovery

  • Scientific Reports: Link
  • University of Seville: Link
  • University of St. Andrews: Link
  • University of Vienna: Link
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute: Link

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Reader123 July 7, 2023 - 1:03 am

omg this is sooo cool!! a tomb for a women not a man!! they thought it was for a man at first but then used teeth to find out it was a woman!! that’s crazyy. things are not always what they seem, right?

ScienceGeek22 July 7, 2023 - 2:36 am

tooth enamel analysis, huh? that’s a game-changer. it’s cool to see how science is advancing and giving us new ways to learn about the past. can’t wait to see what else we’ll find with these techniques.

GrammarPolice1 July 7, 2023 - 9:07 am

Great job on the article, but there are a few spelling errors and missing punctuation marks. Remember to proofread before publishing. Keep up the good work!

ArchaeoExplorer July 7, 2023 - 1:00 pm

fascinating discovery! this makes me wonder how many other tombs might have been misidentified. we could find more surprises if we reevaluate the past. archaeology keeps rewriting history.

HistoryNerd77 July 7, 2023 - 3:37 pm

amazing research!! tooth enamel to determine the gender, who would’ve thought? this challenges the old narratives about men always being in power. women can be special too, yay for gender equality in the past!


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