Scientists have confirmed the existence of the first female Viking warrior officer, more than a century after its remains were first found and assumed to have belonged to a male warrior.
According to Forbes, it was in the 1880s when a gravesite in Birka, Sweden was discovered, revealing various types of fighting equipment and weapons, as well as the remains of a warrior and two horses. The remains were thought to have dated back to the 10th century, and while scientists were once certain that the human skeleton was that of a male Viking, subsequent analysis suggested that the skeleton had some female features.
When the remains were originally found, archaeologists had discovered a sword, a spear, an axe, armor-piercing arrows, two shields, and other weapons, all used by someone they had described as a “professional warrior.” This first high-ranking female Viking warrior, aside from being mistaken for male, also had a set of gaming pieces in her grave, suggesting that she was a high-ranking officer who had a “knowledge of tactics and strategy,” the Independent wrote.
As there had been no high-ranking female Viking warriors discovered in the past, it was widely assumed that the body belonged to a man. But DNA analysis can now confirm that the warrior was, in fact, a woman. According to the Independent, the researchers took DNA samples from the skeleton’s arm and tooth, and discovered that there was no Y chromosome present in the samples — a telltale sign that they had found the first female Viking warrior officer, close to 140 years after her skeleton was first spotted.
Although talk of female Vikings isn’t unusual, most historical records and artwork depicting women fighting battles alongside their male equivalents have been far more based on mythology than reality, Forbes noted.
“What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas, but a real-life military leader that happens to be a woman,” said study lead author Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson in a statement quoted by Popular Archaeology.
Going forward, the findings could potentially force archaeologists to reconsider how they had initially identified Viking warriors by their gender. The researchers stated that previous links suggesting women wielded weapons in battle like the men did had been dismissed in the past, with scientists then suggesting that the weapons might have been heirlooms, or “grave goods” representative of the family, but not the person being buried.
Hedenstierna-Jonson and her colleagues may have confirmed what could be the first high-ranking female Viking warrior of note, but there are a few unanswered questions, such as how this woman would have been perceived by her presumably male-dominated group of warriors. Yet the researchers believe that the main takeaway from their research is that gender and social roles were similarly complex in the Viking Age, just as they are today.
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