Viking warrior in ancient grave turns out to be a woman


Arguably the most iconic example of a warrior burial in Viking Age Sweden is a mid-10th century grave in Birka.

The discovery is featured in the new edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and was especially interesting to the team, from Uppsala University and Stockholm University, that unearthed it because, "the grave goods included a sword, an axe, a spear, armor-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields, and two horses (one mare and one stallion); thus, the complete equipment of a professional warrior", the researchers noted. The individual carried two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome, demonstrating that the women warriors in Viking poetry and art were no myth. Isotopic analysis of her teeth suggested a high rate of geographic mobility, which was seen as further evidence of her warrior status. The body was buried alongside heavy weaponry, and two horses had been sacrificed as part of her burial ritual, indicating that she was a very highly respected warrior back in Viking times.

Because of this - and because no such high-ranking female Viking has been discovered before - most researchers assumed the body was male.

"Written sources mention female warriors occasionally, but this is the first time that we've really found convincing archaeological evidence for their existence", added Neil Price, a professor at Uppsala University's Department of Archaeology and Ancient History.

The drawing is a reconstruction of how the grave with the woman originally may have looked. The finding became controversial, as it already had been decided there were no female Viking warriors, and no additional testing was done then. Everyone assumed that a man was the one laid to rest in the grave - but new research shows assumptions should not be taken as fact.

There were Viking-era women whose graves contained weapons, but there was a debate about whether the weapons were simply buried with the deceased as heirlooms or if their male skeletons associated with the weapons were missing.

Study co-author and archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson from Uppsala University in Sweden says, "What we have studied was not a valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman".

Much of the history of women warriors has been passed as legend or myth-mere stories of s0-called "shieldmaidens", or women who fought alongside the men.

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".

Hedenstierna-Jonson said the woman was likely a warrior herself.