First Genetic Proof That Viking Women Exist

Women also boarded Viking Voyages, Researchers Confirm. 

Catch up with Lagertha’s journey so far in Season 4 of “Vikings” TV-drama.

Not once have Viking sagas about female warriors with supernatural powers defeating men aroused suspicions that women also dominated the arena.

“Famous Shieldmaiden” Lagertha, appearing on “History” cable network’s “Viking” TV-series, might not be just the pure result of someone’s imagination, but little evidence to prove that female warrior was merely a folklore.

Uppsala University and Swedish researchers, during their last experimentation, have revealed that a 10th-century skeleton found in the Swedish Viking town of Birka in the 1880s belonged to a woman, not to a man. DNA test results retrieved from the skeleton sparked hopes what the Vikings repeatedly told us: women were warriors, too.

Birka, Swedish Viking town, is shown above, with the burial grounds indicated by the striped region.
Retrieved from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.23308/full

 

DNA from the skeleton’s left canine and left humerus showed that the individual had two X chromosomes and was, indeed, a woman.

Moreover, the skeleton study confirmed that the remarkable burial held the remains of around five feet six inches tall (170 centimeters) Viking warrior. “The individual was over the age of 30,” mentioned Charlotte Hendestierna-Jonson, an archeologist at Uppsala University.

Experts say that the buried woman was once a high-ranking officer. The body was arrayed alongside with a full suite of heavy weaponry, including a sword, armor-piercing arrows, a battle knife, an ax, a spear, and two shields. Accompanying the exclusive weaponry, two horses were guarding the skeleton.

Besides, a full set of the elaborate game pieces and a gaming boarding, which was used to try out battle tactics and strategies, were found on the deceased’s lap. According to Hedenstierna-Jonsone, Uppsala University researcher, “You can’t reach such a high (military) position without having warrior experience. She could lead troops in battle.”

What the grave may have looked like. Illustration by Evald Hansen based on Hjalmar Stolpe excavations at Birka in the 19th century (Stolpe, 1889). Retrieved from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.23308/full

 

Isotope analysis of her teeth revealed that she guided nomadic tribes – moving all northern Europe till the legendary Viking wanderlust. Her body showed genetic affinity to modern-day inhabitants of the British Islands (England and Scotland), The North Atlantic Islands (Iceland and the Orkneys), Scandinavia (Denmark and Norway), and Eastern Baltic Europe (Lithuania and Latvia).

In a new study, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, researchers set out to confirm, with a fair share of skepticism, that the gender of the Viking remained.

Like many traditional civilizations, the Viking Age society was essentially dominated by men –  both at home and during hunting. The majority of Viking Age burials found by archeologists reflect traditional gender roles: men were buried with their weapons and tools, while women with household items, needlework, and jewelry.

The nature of the grave, initially discovered and excavated by Swedish archeologist Hjalmar Stolpe, led the expert to assume that the deceased Viking was male – despite the morphological traits, which suggested that it was a she.

 “This image of a male warrior in a patriarchal society was reinforced by research, traditions, and contemporary preconceptions. Hence, the biological sex of the individual was taken for granted,” Hedenstierna-Jonson, Kjellström, and the eight other researchers behind the study write in their report.

 

 

Iren Nazaryan 

 

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