Scientists discover man in tomb was actually a woman

"Ivory Lady," whose tomb was discovered near Seville

The Ivory Lady Credit: Miriam Luciañez Triviño

WHEN archaeologists discovered a 5,000 year old tomb in 2008 in Valencina, a few miles west of Seville in southern Spain, they thought it contained a young man. This was based on an examination of the badly deteriorated remains, and the fact that several precious items found in the tomb (including a flint dagger, a ceramic plate, elephant tusks and amber) pointed to the reasoning that the individual held a high social status.

Calling him ”Ivory man”, researchers used enamel extracted from two teeth found within the tomb to properly identify him. He was believed to have died between the ages of 17 and 25, according to the published scientific report. The researchers used a new method of determining sex that analyses tooth enamel. This technique, developed about five years ago, is more reliable than analysing skeletal remains in poor condition, according to their report, which was published on Thursday 6 July. The new technique detects differences in the chemistry of tooth enamel between males and females and can be used even when full DNA is not available.

“The person was buried alone in a tomb with very special artefacts, which shows that it was somebody of high status”, said Leonardo Garcia Sanjuan, a co-author of the report and archaeologist at the University of Seville in Spain.

Artefacts found in Seville tomb
Credit: Marta Cintas-Pena,

Now called the “Ivory Lady”, the tomb is actually the final resting place of an apparently powerful woman, researchers revealed.

Also from the University of Seville, Marta Cintas-Pena, archaeologist and co-author of the report, said the woman’s burial was far different from others found. “The Ivory Lady’s burial stands out, head and shoulders above everyone else and there is absolutely no known male or female burial that compares to hers”, she said.

The archaeologists hope the revelation will lead to future advancements in research and are hoping to learn more about the woman and her society.

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Written by

Jo Pugh

Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.