Sexuality Studies in Archaeology: Barbara L. Voss

Voss, Barbara L. 2008. “Sexuality Studies in Archaeology.” Annual Review of Anthropology. Vol.37, pp.317-336.

In the article, Sexuality Studies in Archaeology by Barbara L. Voss, Voss discusses how through archaeological research on sexuality, it is becoming more apparent that sexuality in the past was just as varied and complex as present day sexuality. Voss states that, “less than 15 years ago, a review of sexuality studies in archaeology would have merited little more than a substantial footnote (Voss 318).” With this statement, it is clear to see that the current knowledge about sexuality from the past is still being studied and new information is still being learned.

According to Voss there are many factors that contribute to the difficulty in gathering data on sexuality from the past and the present. These factors include the fact that in certain areas around the world artifacts that contain over sexualized images have been destroyed because of inappropriate content. Other factors include artifacts being own by private collections or being censored in museum archives. Another large factor that has contributed to the lack of information on past and present sexuality in history is the fact that when archaeological texts discuss sexuality it still seem to be written in terms of sexuality as reproduction rather than the pleasure aspect of sexuality. Anthropologists must work closely with archaeologists because the concepts on sexuality in the modern world are based on documentation through out history.

Sigmund Freud, who is noted for his multiple psychological theories, was noted for his use of archaeological terminology and metaphors to formation the struggle between conflicts with sexual drives with his subjects is only one of multiple psychologists and anthropologists who are noted for using ancient artifacts for modern studies on subjects. According to Voss, “the archaeological turn toward questions of sexual difference began in classical archaeology (Voss 319).”

Spanning back to the ancient Greeks there has been notable evidence of sexual hierarchies. Whether between men and women or men and men there has always been a notable hierarchy. This relates to modern times because there is still a hierarchy of sexuality in society. In the United States for example the hierarchy of sexuality determines who is allowed to marry. But according to Voss there is a topic that is even more important to sexuality documented through historical artifacts, reproduction.  

While it is noted that men and women throughout history have engaged in sexual acts for reproduction purposes, it is also noted that sexual acts are engaged in just for pleasure purposes. The multiple artifacts collected that have been found out to be used for pregnancy prevention have determined this. Specific creams and artifacts have been said to prevent pregnancy.

Archaeology in regards to sexuality in anthropology has been used to prove that there is a lot more to sexuality than what meets the eyes. Anthropologists must use artifacts from the past to determine how the past relates to sexuality today. Through artifacts and information collected it is possible for anthropologists to determine sexuality of the past and how it has influenced sexuality in modern times. Voss has been able to determine how that the varied sexuality of modern times is not that different than the sexuality of the past.

From this article I have been able to gain a better perspective of modern and ancient sexuality. I have been able to see that sexuality is really based more on culture rather than on personal beliefs. Through out time sexuality has changed, and it is still changing in modern times. It is hard to define sexuality as one thing, because there are so many different factors that influence sexuality. It is also hard to define sexuality, because each person has a unique view on how they define themselves sexually.


Important Themes:


Sexual Hierarchy

Archaeology discovering sexuality



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