Recent study of Merovingian tombs in Île-de-France has revealed numerous objects which were placed along the dead during the burial. Those pieces have been used for a long time to determine the sex of the deceased. Nonetheless, the development of gender studies and methods in anthropology now allow us to sex bodies with bones, and have opened new perspectives on objects, particularly on how to question and compare the different aspects of materialities through gender and sex. The main issues addressed in this essay would be the possibility of gendering objects, their significance during funerary rituals, and the relationships between the living, the dead and material culture through some examples from different necropoleis.
This paper analyzes the significance of two ‘gendered’ symbols in the Oseberg burial: the ship, associated in medieval literary sources with the burials of prestigious men, and the wagon, a feminine symbol since at least the early Iron Age. Drawing on literary and archaeological evidence, this paper argues that these objects may not reflect the gender of the deceased, but rather the materialities associated with death by the surviving community. Looking to modern museum studies theory, this paper views the surviving community as curators of an exhibition, making meaning and constructing identities through the material culture of death.
Medieval Icelanders mined sheep for money, converting the readily available resource of wool into homespun cloth (vaðmál) used as a commodity currency. The dual-identity of vaðmál, both cloth and money, is gendered and blurs the traditional division between male and female spheres of influence. Using examples from the Icelandic family sagas of female cloth production and its use in daily life and trade or compensation payments, this paper examines how and when the cloth’s meaning changes, as it is determined by the gendered context of its use as utilitarian cloth or a unit of currency, or a combination of both.