NEW PHD SPOTLIGHT: MARK TOUSSAINT

Apr. 30, 2020

Ph.D. student Mark Toussaint defended his dissertation as the culmination of her doctoral experience! His dissertation focuses on gender and lived experience in Early Bronze Age populations of southeastern Poland.

Title: Excavating Gender: The Embodiment and (Re)presentation of Social Relations in Mierzanowice Communities of the Early Bronze Age

Abstract: The construction of gender in a society is based on a discursive relationship between culture and biology. Ideological components are often translated into structural factors, which condition access to social and biological resources and exposure to risk. Cumulative differential health outcomes for groups can become embodied in ways that affect the skeleton. By conducting population-level analyses of skeletal markers of health and trauma, bioarchaeologists work backwards to attempt to reconstruct social conditions. Archaeological and mortuary context is an important part of this process. Cemeteries of the Mierzanowice Culture (MC) in southern Poland (~2300-1600 BCE) offer a unique opportunity to study gender in prehistory. Burials in these cemeteries have been described as “bipolar” in orientation, with males and females aligned to opposite points of the compass in mirror-image poses. This study seeks to understand whether the apparent, idealized gender distinctions in MC communities became gender stratification in practice, and whether indeed these distinctions are as binary as they may first appear. The excavated portions of four MC cemeteries were examined, for a sample size of 178 individuals. In addition to sex and age estimation, data were gathered pertaining to biomechanical stresses (entheseal robusticity, osteoarthritis), signs of chronic disease or nutritional insufficiency, and trauma. Results suggest that gender was at least not the primary factor with regard to the intensity of habitual labor, nor were divisions of labor so distinct that they could be clearly ascertained through patterns of entheseal robusticity. Patterns of trauma, however, suggest that while males may have experienced more occupational or accidental injuries, young adult females experienced higher rates of interpersonal violence. Finally, examination of mortuary context and anthropological data preliminarily supports the interpretation of a more nuanced approach to gender in MC communities than a static gender binary.