“The king (well, queen in this case, or lady…) is gone but he’s not forgotten”

The woman in the warrior-grave excavated on Birka still haunts us, in a good way of course. It provoked much attention when it was published, and although we have published several papers since that study, it continues to provoke. That became obvious to me on the Museum Day in Malmö. Of the critical once, there is a large group that do not want this to be a woman what so ever. But as Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson expressed it once, ”she is never going to be a man again” (and note that Charlotte was of course referring to the biological sex here, social aspects remains open for discussion). But there is also a group of colleagues with views that deserves to be taken seriously. They feel that we did not problematize the find sufficiently, and that we did not provide the discussion the result deserved.


The base that this argument rests on is indeed correct. We provided a genetic confirmation of a previous osteological sex-identification. And with it our best interpretation of the data. Only that, nothing more. We did not discuss more complicated interpretations in depth (for example, that in this particular case the find material could be interpreted in a very different way than had it been a biological man in the grave, or how likely it is that this is a XX male with a translocated SRY gene). And I am not going to apologize for that (but remember, this is me, other co-authors may hold other opinions). As it stands now, we are actually preparing a paper with much of this discussion, but only because there are people in our group who are deeply interested in this problem. We could as well have chosen to move on to other topics and materials and leave the discussion at this point. I could blame the format of the journals we often use, and this would be half-true as they only allow for a certain amount of text. When we have more space we tend to go deeper. But the real reason is that when we have a result that appears to be interesting, we want to get it out and into the discussion, and with the interpretation we find most likely. When everything about a result is public, that is when everybody gets the possibility to interpret it and re-interpret it. We will publish more complete studies and discussions on various topics in the future, but we will also publish short notes presenting the data and stating the interpretation we find most likely, just as we did with the woman in the warrior grave on Birka. And had we done it differently, the data would still not have been published and she would not have been discussed the way she is now.

In Malmö the Birka lady came alive again



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