In news that should surprise no one, it turns out the remains of a Viking warrior hitherto mistakenly (and, might we add, sloppily) assumed to be male are, in fact, female. Not only was this warrior a female, but she is also thought to have been a military leader — a warrior princess if you will.
According to Swedish media outlet The Local, archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe discovered the warrior woman’s remains in the Viking-age town of Birka in the late 1880s. Stolpe and his fellow researchers assumed the remains belonged to a man because of the traditionally masculine items — warrior equipment and horses — surrounding the remains.
The warrior would probably have been incorrectly identified forever if not for Anna Kjellström, a brilliant osteologist from Stockholm University. Kjellström happened to be analyzing the remains for a project a few years ago when she noticed the skeleton’s cheekbones looked much finer and thinner than a man’s cheekbones would. An osteological analysis further supported her hypothesis, and a recent DNA test made it official: The warrior was more likely to be Thora than Thor.
“It’s actually a woman, somewhere over the age of 30 and fairly tall too, measuring around [5 feet 6 inches],” says Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Uppsala University archeologist and lead author of the study, which is published in the American Journal of Anthropology.
In addition to the female Viking’s grave being decorated in “the complete warrior equipment” — which included “a sword, an ax, a spear, armor-piercing arrows, a battle knife, shields and two horses” — this real-life Xena had a special board game in her lap, “or more of a war-planning game used to try out battle tactics and strategies, which indicates she was a powerful military leader. She’s most likely planned, led and taken part in battles,” explains Hedenstierna-Jonson.
According to Forbes, speculation about female Viking warriors has been out there for quite some time, mostly based on historical records from the Middle Ages talking about women and men fighting alongside each other as well as artistic images. But most people — including scientists — assumed it was folklore. While Hedenstierna-Jonson and her colleagues were the first to admit that high-ranking females in the military weren’t a common occurrence back in the day, they do allude to the fact that sexism may have something to do with why this woman’s gender was overlooked.
“This image of the 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,” they wrote in the study, later adding, “Viking scholars have been reluctant to acknowledge the agency of women with weapons” and “similar associations of women buried with weapons have been dismissed, arguing that the armaments could have been heirlooms, carriers of symbolic meaning or grave goods reflecting the status and role of the family rather than the individual. Male individuals in burials with similar material record are not questioned in the same way.”
Perhaps this study will motivate archaeologists to re-examine other warrior remains to determine if there were more hard, high-ranking female fighters. We are guessing the answer is “hell yes.”
With Gal Gadot killing it as Wonder Woman and now this, we have a feeling there are going to be some amazing warrior-themed Halloween costumes this year!
What Do YOU Think?
Does the thought of a female Viking warrior excite you? Does it surprise you that sexism may exist in the research world? Do you think there were more female warriors overlooked in other ancient societies?