The Vikings had some fierce lady leaders, it turns out, as scientists have confirmed that the human remains found in a prominent Viking warrior grave are female.
The remains, interred in a “well-furnished” grave in the town of Birka in Sweden, were unearthed in the 1880s and identified as belonging to the Viking era, US News and World Report states. However, it was only through recent advances in DNA testing that the warrior’s sex was determined, raising interesting questions regarding gender roles and limitations in what was a male-dominated society.
Not only was the female a warrior, but she was a professional and esteemed one.
Alongside her remains, archeologists discovered a sword, an ax, a spear, armor-piercing arrows, two shield, a bottle knife and two horses – all of which would have been the full complement for a highly regarded warrior. In addition, there was a full set of gaming pieces, indicating that she must have had knowledge of tactics and strategy, thereby confirming her role as a superior officer, the findings conclude.
Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, an archaeologist at Uppsala University, said, “Aside from the complete warrior equipment buried along with her…she had a board game in her lap, or more of a war-planning game used to try out battle tactics and strategies, which indicates she was a powerful military leader. She’s most likely planned, led and taken part in battles.”
The remains were long assumed to be male, because of the armor found with them. But Anna Kjellstrom, an osteologist at Stockholm University, started re-examining the bones in 2016 and noticed distinctive feminine qualities, such as thinner cheekbones and other “typically feminine” bone structures like the hips.
Hedenstierna-Jonson, Kjellstrom and the eight other researchers who conducted the study said, “This image of the male warrior in a patriarchal society was reinforced by research traditions and contemporary preconceptions. Hence, the biological sex of the individual was taken for granted.”
The study was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.