By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
Already in the early middle ages, there were narratives about fierce female Vikings fighting alongside men. Although, continuously reoccurring in art as well as in poetry, the women warriors have generally been dismissed as mythological phenomena.
Northern Europe is replete with evidence of Viking Age warrior graves. During the 8th to late 10th century, Birka (Birch Island), located on the island of Björkö, was at a crossroads for trade, situated in Eastern Central Sweden. Its position in Lake Mälaren, which was linked to the Baltic Sea by the Södertälje Canal placed it at the center of an economic, cultural and social network that extended eastward beyond the Ural Mountains into the Caliphate and south into the Byzantine Empire, and the Arab world.
Birka's population averaged at about 900 persons that were made of warriors, artisans and merchants. It was unique in its the urban culture when compared to the surrounding region. Proof of its diverse contact and cultural influences from other places is reflected in its different burial practices.
Approximately a third of its 3,000 graves have been excavated. The graveyard is distributed in a circle around the town area.
According to the American Journal of Physical Anthropology There was one grave (BJ 581) that was complete and furnished with the accouterments belonging to a warrior. It was placed on an elevated terrace, and marked by a large, stone boulder where it was in direct contact with the Warrior's Hall, where a garrison was housed to protect the town.
The grave goods include a sword, an axe, a spear, armor-piercing arrows, a battle knife, two shields, and two horses, one mare and one stallion; thus, the complete equipment of a professional warrior. Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces indicates knowledge of tactics and strategy, stressing the buried individual's role as a high-ranking officer. As suggested from the material and historical records, the male sex has been associated with the gender of a warrior identity.
The area was excavated in the 1870s, and BJ 581 was documented in 1889, as "one of the most iconic graves from the Viking Age", by archaeologist Hjalmer Stope (1841-1905).
Made of wood the grave chamber measured 113 ft long and 6 ft wide. The body was in a collapsed sitting position, wearing "garments of silk, with silver thread decorations." The bits of cloth left behind link her to the Vikings' East Way which was the trade route to the Silk Road.
For the next 128 years it was believed this grave belonged to a "battle hardened man", and was compared to a figure from Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.
Viking women were known to be buried with weapons, however prior to this verification the existence of female warriors buried with this importance during the Viking Age was debated among academics. Viking scholars were slow to acknowledge that women were considered warriors.
The results of the analysis found the subject was 30 to 40 years old. "The greater sciatic notch of the hip bone was broad, and a wide preauricular sulcus was present. This, together with the lack of projection of the mental eminence on the mandible, assessed the individual as female. Additionally, the long bones are thin, slender and gracile which provide further indirect support for the assessment."
Her bones did not reflect any trauma. She ate well, so her family of origin was wealthy and possibly royal. She measured 5'7", and traveled throughout the region before settling in Birka when she was a teenager.
In 2017, DNA taken from the Birka warrior was compared with three different population reference datasets, and it showed all the characteristics of ancient and authentic DNA. She is genetically linked to present-day persons living in the British Islands, the North Atlantic Islands, Scandinavia and a little less to the Eastern Baltic European countries.
The manner of burial, with the confirmation of her sex confirms that Viking warriors could be women in what was thought to be a male dominated sphere.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer