The ancient Vikings were legendary as warriors and seafarers, but our depictions of these ruthless raiders as exclusively male will now need to change. A new genetic study on the remains of an iconic Swedish Viking Age grave has not only proven that there were women Viking warriors as well, but that these women may have even commanded Viking armies, reports Phys.org.
"This is the first formal and genetic confirmation of a female Viking warrior," said Mattias Jakobsson at Uppsala University, one of the researchers to perform the study.
The analysis was performed on one of the most well-known graves from the Viking Age, a mid-10th century grave in the Swedish Viking town of Birka. It was originally excavated in the 1880s and displays the remains of a warrior surrounded by weapons, including a sword, armor-piercing arrows, two horses and also a full set of gaming pieces and a gaming board, which assisted with war strategy. Because of the game and the impressive array, it is widely believed that this was a burial for a high ranking officer, a commander.
Biases have long led researchers to presuppose that the skeletal remains were from a man even though the morphology of the skeleton suggested they belonged to a woman. But now, DNA evidence collected from the bones show that this individual had two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome — undoubtedly, a woman.
"The gaming set indicates that she was an officer, someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle. What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to have been a woman," said Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study.
Extensive isotope analysis on the site also suggests that this Viking woman would have traveled extensively, which is what would have been expected from a Viking warrior. This was a formidable, battle-tested raider, with a burial to suggest that she was highly respected as a leader.
"Written sources mention female warriors occasionally, but this is the first time that we've really found convincing archaeological evidence for their existence," echoed Neil Price, another researcher on the study.