“She took a naked sword and fought for her kinsmen’s lives”

Today we publish a paper in AJPA which I have enjoyed much being a part of. It is not about a major demographic movement across a continent, and it does not contain fancy super-advanced genomics, but I think it is just as interesting and important as if it had. It is about the sex identification of a warrior, an officer, who was buried in the Viking-town Birka. Her grave was excavated 130 years ago, and being so complete and rich in warrior-artefacts, it has been cited in numerous publications since. But only now do we realize she was a woman.

The burial

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The archaeological meaning of this is of course that women had some kind of access to most parts of the Viking society, there were things more important than sex to add to the CV. This is interesting, and in line with much other evidence. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who led the study, likes to cite the part of the Edda from where I took the headline to this post, where a woman is doing skilled sword-battle with a bunch of men (a gruesome part of the Edda, containing much violence and a Sergio Leone western-feeling). But maybe even more interesting is the fact that it took us 130 years to see her. Quit much of the sex-indicating morphology is there, and you really do not need DNA to sex this warrior. But we were so blinded by the sword and the armour piercing arrowheads so we did not see the individual behind them.

 

The study: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.23308/full

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