The Burial in Structure A
stands up from the grave,
pulsing from the trance.
Hair is slate and charcoal toned,
strands shaped wild like the
shadows homehearths juggle,
not at all the ‘old woman’ or
‘elderly woman’ described in
most archaeological and media reports.
The archaeologists at least
ought to know very well that
maximum life span in both
Homo sapiens and Neanderthals
— if not expected lifespan —
stretches all the way to
our own capacities as
and that premature death by
hygiene, childbirth or starvation
does not then turn survivors ‘old’
except by intracultural comparison. She is 45.
She has committed the modern crime of
being powerful, of not being
princess-like enough or
‘young, with long blonde hair,
as I once had an archaeologist professor
ickily describe a Bronze Age northern grave,
invoking the necromancy of snow whites and
sleeping beauties and serial killers,
or perhaps just offering exemplars of
sexist male teachers who drain
discomforting female agency starting from
not just the moment females are born but
apparently also the moment they are dead,
and adding insult upon injury by
additionally dividing the post-mortem
into fuckable or not,
which is not a classificatory
scientific term even in archaeological just-so stories told to
captive groups of undergraduate students.
But such power was no crime in her time.
The fifty tortoises crawl
whilst the boar snorts and their
geometric shells wink secret matrices,
the golden eagle pecks and flaps,
the leopard snarls playfully and the
martens purr like cats around her
bare revivified ankles. Her limp is gone.
She stretches her middle-aged bones and
feels rejuvenation like a liquor,
the cow tail twitches weakly,
the extra foot runs away into
the village to tell them hallelujahs.
[Context: Natufian culture of the Southern Levant (modern Israel) from 15,000-11,500 years ago was a pre-agricultural, sedentary or semi-sedentary culture. They made amazing art and had a fascinating burial process, where they seem to have exhumed the bodies and further decorated the skulls etc. with headdresses and jewellery for a second burial. We have no idea why. One Natufian grave (‘Structure A’) from ca. 12,000 years ago revealed a woman whose congenital skeletal pathologies meant she would have limped while alive. She was surrounded in death by 50+ turtle shells, a golden eagle wing, two marten heads, a cow’s tail, a wild boar limb and someone else’s severed human foot; she is theorised by some to be a shaman.]
Alaskan-born evolutionary anthropologist Kathleen Bryson studies prejudice/empathy and currently is a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford. She also is a published author of over 100 fiction pieces, including 3 novels of literary fiction. The most recent novel is The Stagtress, published by Fugue State Press (2019). An artist-writer-filmmaker long before she became a social scientist, she has had 10 solo art exhibitions, amongst them “Once Upon a Spacetime” about scientific and religious cosmologies at the Royal Institution in 2019. Read more about her writing, art, filmmaking and scientific research at www.kathleenbryson.com and on Instagram.
Poem and artwork by Kathleen