Viking warrior women? Reassessing Birka chamber grave Bj.581

One of the more surprising moments in my career so far was the one that followed the publication of the genetic sex-identification of Bj.581. The burial on Birka with a female accompanied by a rich warrior equipment. She was excavated in 1878 and was believed to have been a male warrior for a long time. What followed the publication was an amazing level of attention, and questions regarding the context. Today we publish a follow-up in Antiquity (online), aiming at providing a deeper description of just that, the context. And also addressing some of the questions raised after the original publication of the molecular sex-identification. As I have heard both Charlotte (Hedenstierna-Jonson) and Neil (Price) put it (I don’t know who of them originally expressed it): “The buried person has always carried two X chromosomes, even if this was unknown before our recent work; the occupant of Bj.581 will never be biologically male again.” Thus, Bj.581 remains a female buried within a warrior context, and this case-study provides both new perspectives and new questions, and helps to keep the Viking period a very interesting part of our prehistory. Naturally, we all participated in putting this follow-up together. But there is always a driver, one who invests much more time and effort than the rest of the authors, and this time it was Neil Price who used his expertise and made this publication happen.

Bj.581, the female burial on Birka