Women were Viking warriors too, says DNA study

“Our results – that the high-status grave Bj 581 on Birka was the burial of a high ranking female Viking warrior – suggest that women, indeed, were able to be full members of male dominated spheres”, they conclude. Her weapons included a sword and armor-piercing arrows, an axe, a spear, a battle knife.

Isotope tests showed that the woman soldier lived a transient life, in keeping with the military culture of the era. The findings were published online Friday in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

“The gaming set indicates that she was an officer, someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle”, said Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, form Stockholm University, who led the study. “She’s most likely planned, led and taken part in battles“, she added.

The warrior was buried in one of the most iconic graves of the Viking Age during the mid-10 century. That urban center was home to hundreds of people and it was a popular burial site, with more than 3,000 known graves surrounding the town, about a third of which have been excavated. Because of the “manly” warrior equipment found in the grave, it was just assumed – rather than proven – that the remains were that of a man. Illustration by Evald Hansen based on Hjalmar Stolpe’s excavations at Birka in the 19th century (Stolpe 1889).

The researchers chose to confirm the nature of the woman’s travels by using a strontium isotope analysis on three molar teeth from the lower jaw.

According to The Local , the first person to do something about the fact that the skeleton’s morphological features don’t coincide with a male body was Anna Kjellstr√∂m, an osteologist at Stockholm University.

Because of this – and because no such high-ranking female Viking has been discovered before – most researchers assumed the body was male. The cheekbones were finer and thinner than that of a man, and the hip bones were typically feminine. Now, finally, DNA tests confirmed her beliefs, that she was a woman.

This is the first formal and genetic confirmation of a female Viking warrior“, said professor of biology Mattias Jakobsson at Uppsala University. The sample revealed a lack of Y chromosomes, signalling that the individual was female. Hedensternia-Jonson says the Viking woman was likely a warrior herself. “It was probably quite unusual, 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“.

Artistic representation of a Viking Age warrior woman on a ship.

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