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Viking Warrior Found Over a Century Ago in Swedish Grave Was Actually A Woman

For centuries, and in almost all societies, men were always viewed as the ones fighting in the battlefront, while women remained behind to take care of the home.

But not in Viking-era Sweden apparently.

Recently archeologists in Sweden discovered that a body found over 100 years ago in the Viking Age town of Birka was, in fact, that of a woman, and most likely a very powerful one.

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, an archeologist at Uppsala University, said:

“It’s actually a woman, somewhere over the age of 30 and fairly tall too, measuring around 170 centimetres. Aside from the complete warrior equipment buried along with her – a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, shields, and two horses – 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.”

When the grave was first excavated by Swedish archeologist Hjalmar Stolpe at the end of the 19th century, the heavy battle armor and “manly” weaponry that was buried inside together with the body had led the team to assume it was a man. Tests were never performed that proved otherwise.

However, a few years ago, when Anna Kjellström, an osteologist at the Stockholm University, brought the body out for a research project, she noticed discrepancies between her findings and those originally reported by Stolpe.

She noticed the cheekbones to be finer and thinner than those of a man of the same age, and the hipbones were distinctly feminine. Kjellstrom requested an osteological analysis to back up her theories. Just this year, a DNA-analysis was carried out, finally proving her theories right. The team of researchers who made the discovery produced a formal report detailing their findings.

The image of the male warrior in a patriarchal society was reinforced by research traditions and contemporary preconceptions. Hence, for discoveries of this nature the biological sex of the individual is usually taken for granted.

“Though some Viking women buried with weapons are known, a female warrior of this importance has never been determined and Viking scholars have been reluctant to acknowledge the agency of women with weapons,” they said.

They noted how important the discovery was, and how it was the first of its kind. Besides being a military strategist and leader, the woman likely participated in battle as a warrior herself.

"You can’t reach such a high (military) position without having warrior experience, so it’s reasonable to believe that she took part in battles."

“It was probably quite unusual (for a woman to be a military leader), but in this case, it probably had more to do with her role in society and the family she was from, and that carrying more importance than her gender,” Hedenstierna-Jonson said.

When the body’s gender was first revealed, it was met with skepticism. However, the team noted that despite the criticism, they hope it will open archeologists up to the idea of women warriors, and make them less likely to make assumptions in the field based on stereotypical gender roles.

H/T Archaeology

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