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02.12.2020

Female viking warrior, Birka

Warrior woman Viking was a woman buried with the ammunition of an elite professional in a warrior in the tenth century chamber grave in Birka, Sweden. Since the excavation of the grave in 1889, the remains have been considered a male warrior, but osteological analysis and DNA study in 2017 proved that the remains belonged to a woman. The study concludes that the artifacts buried with the woman indicate that she was a high-ranking professional warrior. This conclusion is challenged as premature by some archaeologists and historians who argue that the artifacts are not evidence that the women were warriors in Viking patriarchal culture. This contradiction has contributed to the debate about the role of women in Viking society.

Archaeologist and ethnographer Jalmar Stolpe (1841-1905) excavated the warrior's burial chamber in the 1870s as part of his archaeological research on the site of the Viking Age Birk on the island of Björkö in modern Sweden. In 1889, he documented the grave as Bj 581. It was considered "one of the most iconic graves of the Viking Age". The grave was marked by a large stone boulder and was found on the elevated terrace, where it was in direct contact with the garrison. The tomb chamber was wooden, its length was 3.45 m, width 1.75 m. The body was found in a decomposed state sitting, in silk clothes with ornaments made of silver threads. The objects found in the tomb included a "sword, axe, spear, armor-piercing arrows, a combat knife, two shields and two horses, one mare and one stallion. For the next 128 years it was believed to be the skeleton of a "battle-hardened man". 

Research in the 1970s called into question the assumption that the skeleton was male. Osteological analysis of pelvic bones and the lower jaw of the skeleton, carried out in 2014 by Anna Kjellström, a bioarheologist from Stockholm University, confirmed that it was the grave of a woman. Some archaeologists were skeptical, citing the possibility that the bones were mislabeled in the last century or possibly mixed with bones from other nearby graves.

A study conducted by Charlotte Hedenschern-Johnson, published in September 2017, noted that "Kjelström's osteological analysis has raised questions about sex, gender and identity among Viking warriors. The Hedenschern-Johnson team extracted DNA from samples taken from the tooth and bone of a human hand buried in Bj 581. According to Maya Krezvinska, it was finally proved that the skeleton belonged to a woman with two different X chromosomes, but not Y chromosomes.

The same study also analyzed strontium isotopes on the skeleton to determine the geographical profile of a person. This determined that it had similar markers with modern humans living in areas that were under Viking influence. This raised the question of whether this individual was originally from Birka or if she subsequently settled there.

The conclusion of the study was controversial: "the man in Tomb Bj 581 is the first confirmed female Viking warrior. The authors responded to criticism of their initial research in a second article published in Antiquity, which provided additional information about their methodology and confirmed their conclusion.

An analysis of the grave's contents showed that it contained a game set with a board and figures that were believed to be evidence of its strategic thinking and indicated "that it was an officer who could lead troops into battle. The Guardian reported: "The pieces - perhaps from the Hnefatafla, a kind of precursor to chess - suggest that the female warrior from Tomb Bj 581 was a combat strategist. According to Kjelström, "only a few warriors are buried with game chips, and they signal strategic thinking. Testimonies also point to her belonging to the military caste. The Washington Post reported: "The warrior was in fact a woman. And not just a woman, but a Viking woman, a servant of the shield, like the ancient Brienne Tart of the Game of Thrones. Archaeologist David Zori noted that "numerous sagas about the Vikings, such as the 13th century saga about the Wolsungs, tell of" girl shields "fighting side by side with male warriors.


 

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