Norse mythology talks about valkyries, female spirits who haunted battlefields, choosing who lives and who dies. These legendary figures weren't the only women associated with Viking battles. A new study of a 10th-century Viking skeleton shows the buried warrior was a woman.
Study co-author and archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson from Uppsala University in Sweden says, "What we have studied was not a valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman." The team involved in the study comes from Uppsala and Stockholm University.
An illustration by Evald Hansen shows the layout of the Viking warrior's grave when it was first excavated. Stolpe 1889
Researchers found the skeleton buried in the Viking-age town of Birka in Sweden. The grave was filled with military honors, including a sword, arrows and two horses. The presence of the horses as well as a gaming board and game pieces indicate a high-ranking leader who was likely involved with strategy and battle tactics.
The site's original excavation took place in the 1880s, but it took until 2017 to establish the warrior as a woman after initial assumptions it was a man. Some of the skeleton's physical traits led researchers to consider the possibility the warrior was female. DNA testing finally established the Viking's gender.
The science team published the results last week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology with the title "A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics."
The study notes some Viking women have been found buried with weapons, but this is the first time researchers have identified a female warrior with such a high level of importance. The researchers write, "Our results caution against sweeping interpretations based on archaeological contexts and preconceptions."