New evidence of the existence of women among the Viking warriors invites archaeologists to reconsider their interpretation of the history of the Scandinavian people.
More than a millennium ago, in the southeastern part of what is now the Kingdom of Sweden, a wealthy Viking warrior lived in a glorious tomb full of swords, arrows, and two sacrificed horses. The cemetery reflected in all respects the ideal of the life of a Viking warrior. At least that's what archaeologists have been thinking so far.
A new DNA analysis of the recovered bones revealed that the grave was occupied by a woman.
The study, recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, surprised historians specializing in the Viking period and culture. It is possible that our vision of the Vikings, the proud and fearless sailors who have roamed Europe for centuries, has changed.
With armor, headphones, a chain and leather, these historical figures are fantastic.
"This funeral was highlighted to show an exemplary Viking warrior," explains Baylor University archaeologist Davide Zori, who was not involved in the investigation. "This new study calls into question our archaeological interpretation of this period: we have always believed that they are male bones.
"Gliscaves have long proved that not all Viking warriors were men. A 10th-century Irish text tells the story of Inghen Ruaidh (the 'Red Girl'), a warrior who led a Viking fleet in Ireland. David Zori, of also points out that many Viking saga, such as the legendary Volsunga saga, show armed girls fighting alongside soldiers,
but some archaeologists have seen these warriors as mythological ornaments created to fit a more modern description of the genre.
In the late 1880s, archaeologists could not have imagined that this Viking tomb discovered at Birka was nothing more than the last remnant of a great warrior. Because the artifacts discovered next to him were, in their imagination, attributed to males.
This perception has changed slightly since the bioarchaeologist Anna Kjellström from Stockholm University made a first careful examination of the pelvic and mandibular bones of the alleged warrior. Its size matched unmistakably with a woman's body.
Playing with swords and spears, historical figures recreated violent battles between Vikings and Slavs during the Polish Wolin Festival.
The analysis presented at a conference in 2014 and published in 2016 had little resonance with the general public, and some archaeologists have questioned this interpretation. As the tomb was excavated over two centuries ago, perhaps the bones were removed and confused with those from another tomb? Was the skeleton buried with other people?
In response, a team of scientists led by Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, an archaeologist at Uppsala University, reanalyzed the bones and extracted two types of DNA. The mitochondrial DNA of the deceased, transmitted from mother to child, will determine whether the bones belong to one or more people. DNA would determine the biological genus.
The results could not be clearer: no Y chromosomes were detected in the bones, and the mitochondrial DNA was the same for all the bones found in the grave. The remains were from the same person, and that person was a woman.
Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson and her colleagues believe that this woman was probably a respected warrior and strategist. "There were clues on his thighs that suggested he was a leader. "
Davide Zori is fascinated by these new discoveries about the Birka warrior, one of the largest and most famous Viking cemeteries. The place was also a privileged place for the slave trade and sale.
The movement of goods and people in this place turned Birka into an international cemetery, where many funeral rituals were observed. Some of the bodies were burned and others sat on very high chairs.
"Birka united the Viking world. It was more about negotiation than mutual killing, "Zori adds. She also points out that it is possible, though unlikely, for this woman's relatives to wear war clothes without reflecting her past life. But based on available evidence Zori says he is confident in the results of the study:
"This discovery has been of growing interest over time, due to texts, chronicles about the existence of women warriors ... Today, we can look differently at the history of the Vikings."