In the 1880s, a Viking grave was excavated in the town of Birka in Sweden. It was obviously the grave of a warrior because it was filled with grave goods signifying as much. Along with weapons, like an axe, arrows, shields, a battle knife, a spear, and a sword, two war horses were also found in the grave. In addition, the grave contained a gaming board and game pieces that indicated that the entombed warrior was possibly involved with war strategy. This was definitely a high-ranking warrior.
At the time, archaeologists noticed that the skeleton of the warrior had some features that were rather feminine. For one thing, the hip bones appeared to be those of a female, and the cheekbones were thinner than those of a man. However, no one wanted to believe that such an important Viking warrior was a woman, so these details were ignored.
This year, though, a team of anthropological researchers decided that these physical traits could not be ignored any longer and decided to run DNA testing on the teeth and arm bones of the skeleton. The team was pleasantly surprised when the results revealed that the important Viking warrior was, in fact, a woman. She was around 5 feet, 6 inches tall and died in her 30s.
This is not the first female Viking grave to be found with a warrior’s grave goods. In the past, doubters have claimed that the weapons and other artifacts buried with these women were family heirlooms instead of personal possessions of the deceased. Some have even said that burying a woman in this way meant she was part of a warrior family and not a fighter herself. Burying a woman with weapons would be a reflection on her lineage, not her personal accomplishments.
The sheer number of weapons and the strategy games found in this grave leave little room to doubt that this woman was a military leader of some kind. The researchers do caution, though, that female warriors of such a high rank were probably rare.
The team who conducted the recent study hope that their find convinces other researchers to revisit the assumptions made about other, similar burials. They believe their research shows that archaeologists should not make assumptions about a person’s role in society based solely on their gender.
Is it possible that there are more overlooked Viking shield-maidens waiting to be acknowledged? If so, this could lead to an exciting re-write of history.