Hey ladies– ever feel like history wasn’t really on our side? Ever watch a really sweet tv show or movie chock full of female warriors and think, “Aw man, I wish that could have been how it actually was!” but know, deep down inside, that history was dumb and misogynistic?
Well, we now have confirmation that the Vikings actually were that way, and boy (girl?), we here at AleHorn couldn’t be happier. Let’s break it down:
1. It can be very difficult to tell the actual gender of a skeleton without DNA analysis.
The Smithsonian Institute says that the pelvis is the best place to look for evidence of a skeleton’s gender, but since every human being alive is constructed differently and intersex people exist, it can actually be really difficult to be 100% sure.
The 10th Century Xena Warrior princess discovered in Birka was also quite tall– five feet, six inches, which was big for a woman of that time. And…
2. …she was discovered with a LOT of what we would think of as manly stuff.
She had some warhorses buried with her and a crapton of weapons. But most importantly, she had a strategy game sitting on her lap, which, at the time, was usually a symbol of someone being a general. And also…
3. …the grave was discovered and excavated originally in the late 1800s– a time when archeology was very male-oriented and DNA testing was not really a thing.
Which means that the proof of these artifacts would have easily dissuaded archeologists away from classifying her gender as anything but male.
However, osteologist Anna Kjellström of Stockholm University noticed that these bones had hip bones that were broader and more open, and more outwardly flared– which is usually the sign of a person with XX chromosomes. So, she decided to do some DNA testing and was not altogether surprised by what she found:
“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.”
Of course, this just opens up a whole slew of questions about Viking warrior women, like:
How many other great warriors have we found that we have assumed to be male just because of how they were buried?
- Could this person have been transgender? We know nearly nothing about transgendered people in Ancient Norse society– but they surely existed. They were prevalent the whole world over, and the Norse even have mythology about them– Loki turned into a woman and even gave birth!
- This grave was excavated in the 1800s and was, for a long time, held up as the model Viking burial for a man. So, what else did people back then get wrong about her? What other clues did we miss out on in other burials by holding them against this one?
- What else have we misconstrued about history by conforming it to our modern beliefs?
This is a very big and very exciting discovery for the Norse academic world, but also for gender studies. We look forward to seeing where it leads!
Get your Viking warrior woman on with our Viking style drinking horns
[Read more about Viking burial sites]