Scientists discover woman remains among warrior monks in Medieval Castle

Skull found in the archaeological site of Zorita de los Canes. Credit: Carme Rissech, URV.

Researchers from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and the Max Planck Institute made a surprising discovery while studying the remains of 25 people buried between the 12th and 15th centuries in a castle in Guadalajara, Spain.

Among the bones of warrior monks from the Order of Calatrava, they found the remains of a woman.

This discovery, published in the journal Scientific Reports, sheds new light on the lives and diets of these medieval warriors.

The Order of Calatrava was a military and religious group founded in the 12th century to defend the borders of Castile. Their main job was to protect the region from attacks, particularly from the Almohads.

The remains studied were found in the castle of Zorita de los Canes, a fortress built in 852 and later taken over by the Order of Calatrava.

The research team, led by Carme Rissech from URV, analyzed the bones to understand the diet, lifestyle, and causes of death of these individuals.

They discovered that 23 of the 25 people had died in battle, with injuries from weapons typical of the time. The knights had a diet rich in animal protein and fish, even though they lived far from the coast.

The most unexpected find was the skeleton of a woman. Rissech, who specializes in studying bones, identified her remains through the unique features of her skull and pelvis. Unlike the men, her diet seemed less rich in protein, suggesting she might have had a lower social status. Despite this, her bones showed signs of training with a sword, similar to the male warriors.

This discovery raises many questions. Was this woman a member of the Order of Calatrava? Did she fight alongside the knights? Her injuries suggest she died in battle, and there were no signs of bone healing, indicating she died quickly after being wounded. She might have even worn armor or chain mail like the male knights.

Some researchers think she could have been a servant who joined the battle when needed. However, Rissech disagrees, noting that her bones did not show the physical wear typical of servants. Instead, they had marks consistent with those of a trained warrior.

Further analysis is needed to confirm her exact role and how she lived among the knights. Rissech describes her as a warrior in her forties, around five feet tall, with an average build. She was likely skilled with a sword.

This study is part of the MONBONES project, which looks at the lives of people in monasteries from the 14th to the 19th centuries. By combining different research methods, including anthropology and molecular analysis, the project aims to provide a new understanding of medieval life, diet, health, and society.

The discovery of the female warrior adds a fascinating chapter to the history of the Order of Calatrava and medieval society. It shows that women might have played a more active role in warfare than previously thought, challenging our understanding of gender roles in the past.