The Oldest Known Gay Man?

Have archaeologists uncovered the remains of the first known gay man?

April 7, 2011, 1:55 PM

April 7, 2011 -- Archaeologists in the Czech Republic have unearthed the grave of what may be the remains of the oldest known homosexual or transgender man.

The prehistoric body dates to the Copper age -- or 2900 to 2500 years ago -- and was buried in a manner that was typically reserved for women.

The male skeleton was found on its side, facing east, and was surrounded by domestic jugs, objects previously seen only in female graves. An oval, egg-shaped container, usually associated with female burials, was also found at the feet of the skeleton.

"From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously, so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake," lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova told the U.K.'s Telegraph.

Men of the period were buried with weapons -- stone battle axes and flint knives -- none of which were found in the Czech grave.

Vesinova concluded that the grave represents "one of the earliest cases of what could be described as a 'transsexual' or 'third gender grave' in the Czech Republic."

Not everyone is so convinced.

"He's clearly being singled out. They're making a statement by not putting any of these male identity markers in the grave," Bettina Arnold, a professor of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told "But what made this individual different? Was it their sexual orientation? That's a little tricky."

Some initial media reports suggested that the remains belonged to a "caveman." But by the Copper Age, 5000 years ago, Europeans weren't cavedwellers at all, said Arnold. They were "sedentary agriculturalists" -- farmers.

Homosexuality, as Westerners think of it today, comes with a lot of added societal baggage that wouldn't resonate at all with prehistoric man, Arnold said. She pointed to examples of "gender transformers" across most ancient societies. Some Native American tribes, for example, have room for as many as seven different genders.

Men in many cultures throughout history have occupied a sort of liminal space between the two sexes: They would dress and act like women, but that behavior would have no bearing on their sexual orientation or who they slept with. These "third-gender" people, said Arnold, were sometimes even accorded special spiritual or shaman status in their societies.

"This is not an uncommon phenomenon in prehistoric cemetery populations," said Arnold. "It's always there, but in small percentages."

Indeed, some draw comfort in the immutability this seems to suggest about human -- or even just plain animal -- nature.

"Homosexuality is found in a great many other species -- from ducks to chimps -- as well as many cultures where people are allowed to express it. In some societies, it is even celebrated, such as the Navajo where lesbians are believed to have a special connection to the spiritual world," Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University, wrote in an email to

"So," Fisher continued, "there is every reason to think that some of our ancestors were gay."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events