One of the archaeological world’s most famous discoveries was turned on its head this week when DNA testing suggested that a female warrior, buried some 2,500 years ago in the Altai mountains of Siberia, was actually male.
Even without this latest discovery, the mummy of the warrior ice maiden was already popular in the world of anthropology. The site of her burial was an archaeological wet dream: it contained amulets for female fertility and smaller, presumably feminine-sized, examples of funerary furniture (all of which suggest that she was female). Not only was the pig-tailed teenager adorned with unusual tattoos, but the wealth of military artifacts—shields, battle axes, and arrowheads—found in her grave suggested that she was an elite Pazyryk warrior. She was, in other words, something akin to the Amazons of Greek lore. An Amazonian ice warrior? Move over Queen Elsa.
But now, this week, a report co-authored by Alexander Pilipenko of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics and Natalia Polosmak of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography at the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences announced that the fabled ice maiden was, in fact, not so maidenly. According to their report, “reliable molecular genetic data” suggested that the remains were male. Given the presence of feminine artifacts in the gravesite, tabloid news reports were quick to identify the discovery as evidence of ancient gender-bending.