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Double Viking Girls

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Clearly, the grave contained a warrior of great importance; and for over a century, archaeologists assumed the person was male. But when researchers announced in that the warrior was actually female, they received a lot of pushback—surely the archaeologists had made some mistake? Perhaps they tested the wrong body?

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A well-furnished warrior grave in the Viking age town of Birka, Sweden, has been found to contain female bones. So, a female Viking warrior.

And not just any warrior, but a senior one: she was buried alongside a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields and two horses. Gaming pieces — perhaps from hnefatafl, a sort of precursor to chess — suggest the female warrior from grave Bj was a battle strategist.

Was she unique, or were the Viking ranks full of women? Valkyrie amulets have been found depicting women wearing dresses and armour.

But historical fact has largely lagged behind the fictions. It took many years and, finally, genomic testing to establish the lack of a Y chromosome. Might the gaming pieces indicate only that she enjoyed board games? Were the bones — excavated and labelled in the 19th century — put with the wrong weapons?

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Or do these questions prove that we recreate the past in the light of our own prejudice? Nothing in the archaeology has changed — only the gender.

So how many more warrior bones have been pd male that might be female? There are thought to be further anomalies in Norway and Sweden. But they must have been there.

Shortcuts Archaeology. Does new DNA evidence prove that there were female viking warlords?

More information

Katheryn Winnick as Lagertha in Vikings. Photograph: Bernard Walsh.

Paula Cocozza. Tue 12 Sep Topics Archaeology Shortcuts Sweden features. Reuse this content.