Gender, Personal Adornment, and Costly Signaling in the Iron Age Burials of Hasanlu, Iran

Cifarelli, Megan. 2018. Gender, Personal Adornment, and Costly Signaling in the Iron Age Burials of Hasanlu, Iran. In Saana Svärd and Agnes Garcia-Ventura (eds.), Studying Gender in the Ancient Near East. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.

This article explores the role played by personal ornaments in the performance of gender, and in the construction and differentiation of gendered identities, in the early Iron Age (Period IVb) burials at Hasanlu, a site in Northwestern Iran. A small site situated beyond the limits of the Assyrian Empire and in the path of the advancing Urartian kingdom, Hasanlu was caught in, and ultimately lost to, the currents of regional conflicts by around 800 BCE. While certainly subjected to the actions of these larger scale entities, material and visual culture of Hasanlu cannot be understood through the application of the same theoretical and methodological approaches that illuminate the artistic and cultural production of hegemonic states.
A careful analysis of the entire cemetery shows that, compared to earlier burials at the site, the artifacts and ornaments in burials dating between an earlier destruction (ca. 1050 BCE) and the catastrophic destruction (ca. 800 BCE) evidence heightened gender differentiation, an influx of artifact types from regions to the north, and the introduction of military equipment and militaristic ornaments to a range of distinct, elite burial assemblages. These new elements can be interpreted as representing an ideological shift towards militarization at the site, but I will argue that the nature of these objects and the contexts in which they are found demand a methodological approach that looks more closely at the interplay between human choices and cultural norms, in the period leading up to Hasanlu’s catastrophic destruction. The shifts in the material culture evidenced in the Period IVb burials are the record of local, dynamic, and gender specific attempts to negotiate status and identity at the site, in an era of internal unease.