So you thought all those badass Viking warriors were men? Wrong! Maybe it was Erica the Red instead!
A new study conducted by researchers at Stockholm and Uppsala Universities has revealed that women played a large and equal role in the age of the Vikings.
In 1880, the remains of a Viking warrior who was buried in the Swedish town of Birka in the middle of the 10th century were found. Surrounded by a sword, armor-piercing arrows, two horses and a game board replete with gaming pieces, the discovery led researchers of the time to believe the unearthed remains were those of a male.
During the 1970s, an osteological analysis of the remains suggested they might be that of a female rather than a male. However, societal biases regarding gender roles carried the day and researchers contested such a notion.
Fast forward to modern times and DNA technology. Archeologist Maja Krezwinska was able to determine the gender of the remains by identifying the presence of X chromosomes but the lack of a Y chromosome.
Researchers wrote that the burial site, known as Bj 581 “was brought forward as an example of an elaborate high-status male warrior grave. This image of the male warrior in a patriarchal society was reinforced by research traditions and contemporary preconceptions.”
Jan Storå, who holds the senior position on the study, said, “This burial was excavated in the 1880s and has served as a model of a professional Viking warrior ever since. Especially, the grave-goods cemented an interpretation for over a century. The utilization of new techniques, methods, but also renewed critical perspectives, again, shows the research potential and scientific value of our museum collections.”
According to Charlotte-Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study, “The gaming set indicates that she was an officer, someone who worked with battle tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle. What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader that happens to be a woman.”
Whoever she was, thanks to genetic testing, we know that this Viking warrior was at least above 30 years old at the time of her death and had suffered no pathological or traumatic injuries. Not to mention being a badass, but I don’t think there’s a genetic test for that.
That testing also delivers a loud and clear message that puts to rest one of the great lies of humanity:
Already in the early middle ages, there were narratives about fierce female Vikings fighting alongside men. Although, continuously reoccurring in art as well as in poetry, the women warriors have generally been dismissed as mythological phenomena.
They had it right over a millennium ago. Maybe now it’s time to finally admit that women are equal to men in every way that counts. Different – because we’re not the same. But equal.