Sadly, the grave goods did not include a horned helmet
February 27, 2019 7:43 AM   Subscribe

The occupant of a high-status, 10th-century gravesite in Birka, Sweden, has been confirmed to be that of a female Viking warrior. "This article addresses research showing that the individual buried at Birka in an ‘archetypal’ high-status warrior grave—always assumed to be male since its excavation in 1878—is, in fact, biologically female," says the article in the latest issue of Antiquity (open access).

From the article: "In an underground wooden chamber, a body had been interred, dressed in clothing with details evoking the fashions of the Eurasian Steppe; two horses, one of which was bridled for riding, had been arranged on a platform at the chamber's edge (Figure 3). The deceased individual was surrounded by a large number of weapons; a bag of gaming pieces was placed in the person's lap and a gaming board was propped up beside them. The burial was located at the extreme perimeter of the grave-field, outside the hillfort's northern gate and adjacent to the road leading from the fortress into the town. Bj.581 is, in fact, the westernmost grave at Birka, situated high on the rocky promontory overlooking the lake and originally marked by a large boulder, which would have been visible from both the settlement and the water below."
posted by orrnyereg (17 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
So female DNA was confirmed in 2017; this discusses interpretation, including the possibility of transgender identity and merely symbolic grave goods, coming to the conclusion that contextual evidence favours the reading that this was someone with female DNA who lived as both a woman and as a high status warrior; according to textile evidence most probably a top-level cavalry leader under direct royal command.
posted by Segundus at 8:00 AM on February 27 [19 favorites]


Will the howls of “yes, but...” and outrage quiet?

Probably not.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:13 AM on February 27 [11 favorites]


The Saga Thing Podcast interview with Hedenstierna-Jonson on this subject, one of the primary article authors, is worth listening to. Even more context.

(Of course, the entire podcast run is also worth it, if you're into Icelandic sagas.)
posted by Quasirandom at 8:51 AM on February 27 [9 favorites]


In 2019, it's more controversial that the bag of dice indicates...that she was a gamer.
posted by eustatic at 10:06 AM on February 27 [34 favorites]


"In addition, some 300 knives had been incorporated into the floors and walls of the structure, while the terrace on which it was raised contained a dedicatory deposit of lanceheads; in essence, the structure was a hall built of blades, founded on spears."

Holy hell, I'd never thought this sort of thing existed outside of comics and fantasy novels. Move over Throne of Swords, these folks built a whole goddamn base out of weapons!

Reading these death rites makes me a little disappointed we don't do anything of the sort today. Turn ya into ashes, put you in a cup or get ripped off and buried in a mass produced box. I suppose people are sometimes still buried with a token possession or two, and in general it's better for the living to have objects compared to the dead, but if the next big Earth species are ever excavating our burial sites, seems like there'd be precious little to signify individuals' place in the world.
posted by GoblinHoney at 10:13 AM on February 27 [7 favorites]


What I want to know is whether she'll be added as a playable character in Crusader Kings 2.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:43 AM on February 27 [12 favorites]


Reading these death rites makes me a little disappointed we don't do anything of the sort today.

We still do, for some values of ‘we’. People seem to get buried with cars, motorcycles, or guns often enough.
posted by rodlymight at 11:53 AM on February 27 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is whether she'll be added as a playable character in Crusader Kings 2.

CK2 already has badass female warriors.
posted by Pendragon at 12:12 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Julian Cope is right: vikings were full-on at all times.
posted by scruss at 1:38 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


(Of course, the entire podcast run is also worth it, if you're into Icelandic sagas.)

I am so excited to listen! My husband will be equally thrilled that I will be talking about Icelandic sagas even more now.

My fear is that sagas are one of those things Nazis will find and ruin.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:12 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]


That is fucking badass.
posted by lucidium at 2:34 PM on February 27


Will the howls of “yes, but...” and outrage quiet?

Perhaps the grave was a well, actually?
posted by thelonius at 2:35 PM on February 27 [14 favorites]


In 2019, it's more controversial that the bag of dice indicates...that she was a gamer.

Roll a d20 to save vs. preconceptions
posted by nubs at 2:56 PM on February 27 [7 favorites]


Anna is a Viking
She is very handy with a spear
She won't wear silk stockings
Armor-plated garments are her sphere
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 8:33 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Sadly this will nevertheless remain a relatively isolated case, rather than showing that there were female warriors all over the place. And I wish that sometimes we would just discover that we were wrong wholesale, and it was just our sexist preconceptions that prevented us from showing how things really were. As in discovering that the amazons were real, or something like that. Like, wouldn't it be really cool if we discovered that Xena the warrior princess was not just awesome, but commonplace?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 10:59 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]


Apparently, some men were also warriors. (previously)
posted by MtDewd at 10:29 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]


Segundus: "most probably a top-level cavalry leader under direct royal command"

Did not know the Vikings had Calvary, that's pretty cool.
posted by Mitheral at 8:04 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]


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