On one of the British isles of Scilly, the remains of an ancient warrior buried with a sword and mirror had perplexed archaeologists for years. The grave was discovered back in 1999, but due to the near total deterioration of the bones within, the sex of the buried individual could not be determined. Laid beside the body were a quartet of objects that were confusing. A sword and shield on the one hand suggesting a male identity, with a bronze mirror and brooch suggesting a female. Thanks to new techniques they have now determined that she was an Iron Age warrior who died about 100 BCE (2,100 years ago). The scientists at Historic England used faint traces of tooth enamel left over in the soil to detect the key XX chromosome that is only found in women. “Tooth enamel is the hardest and most durable substance in the human body, so we were able to find enough tiny pieces to calculate a 96% probability that the individual was female.”
Having determined that she was a woman, they then analyzed the meaning of the objects in the grave to see what it would reveal about who she was. The sword and shield were obviously tied to some kind of combat, but what about the mirror? Though mirrors are mostly associated with feminine pursuits in Iron Age Britain, they also served a military purpose for signalling, and for cleansing a warrior’s spirit upon returning from battle. “Although we can never know completely about the symbolism of objects found in graves, the combination of a sword and a mirror suggests that this woman had high status within her community, and may have played a commanding role in local warfare,” said Dr Sarah Stark. “This suggests that female involvement in raiding was more common in Iron Age society than previously thought, and it could have laid the foundations from which leaders like Boudicca would later emerge about 100 years later.” Boudicca was the queen of a tribe of Britons who led her people in a bloody revolt against the Roman occupation.