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Plus Ça Change…

By Lavender April 21, 2011

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To avoid the overwhelming bad news greeting me daily—heartbreaking stories from Japan; horrendous portents in government; Michele Bachmann abroad in the nation—I’ve immersed myself in reading C.J. Sansom’s superb historical crime series set in Tudor England. The 16th Century, I reasoned, should be far enough removed to do the trick.

But no. Sansom’s protagonist, lawyer Matthew Shardlake, is a fine man in a falling time, but his world is all too familiar: internecine struggles between the now-forbidden Catholic belief and Protestants, and among the intransigent Protestant sects themselves; Jews and Muslims as personae non grata; dwindling succor for the poor and homeless; widespread political corruption and heavy penalties for almost anything. Here, “torturer” is a job description.

Then, I was sent a piece on a “Gay” Caveman. Fascinating, but wrongly and sensationally handled in the popular press reminiscent of the way Sansom depicted superstition, rumor, and ignorance in 1537, when Londoners first encountered talking parrots.

The Caveman must be “Gay,” according to the press, because his skeleton was laid out on his left side, like women in that culture, and surrounded by pottery, rather than weapons and tools, as were men.

The interment took place 2,900-2,500 BC, a few thousand—maybe tens of thousands of—years more recent than erroneous “caveman” perceptions. Cuneiform writing and pyramids existed, though not near present-day Prague, where the “Gay” Caveman was found.

After the initial flap, some pointed out that there was no way to determine the individual’s sexuality. Writer Jenny Wilson via LiveScience mentioned that early peoples often recognized gender differences, and treated the individual accordingly.

Having viewed a photo of the skeleton in situ, I found it interesting to note that the bones looked to be adult, intact, and respectfully-positioned with the goods he would need for the afterlife.

My unsupported conclusion is that whoever he was, the man had some place and functions in his community, lived peacefully with his people, and was laid to rest among them in death.

It seems that our own society has less acceptance and empathy than this early group for gender/sexual variance, and has traveled marginally farther from the Tudor Era, mainly in contriving to live longer so as to beleaguer even more people with rumor, factionalism, and intransigence.

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