New DNA evidence proves that women could become viking-warriors

Vikings Heading for Land - Image Source: WikimediaCommons

Viking culture might have been a bit more progressive than you would initially think. There seems to have been no such thing as a glass ceiling for women as their archaeological findings prove that women could be found in the higher ranks on the battlefield. One of the most well-known graves from the viking age, a mid-10th century grave in Swedish Viking town Birka provided enough evidence for archaeologists to come to this conclusion. 

The above mentioned grave was discovered in the 19th century. It contained some weapons and the remains of a warrior and two horses. Although the gender could not be identified back then, the remains of the warrior seemed to resemble a woman. Researches however could not imagine that there where high ranked female warriors and therefore always assumed it to be a male Viking. 

With modern technology geneticists, archaeogeneticists and archaeologists have worked together and solved the mystery. DNA retrieved from the skeleton demonstrates that the individual carried two X chromosomes and no Y chromosome.

“This is the first formal and genetic confirmation of a female Viking warrior,” says Professor Mattias Jakobsson at Uppsala University’s Department of Organismal Biology.

Isotope analyses confirm a travelling life style, well in tune with the martial society that dominated 8th to 10th century Northern Europe.

“The gaming set indicates that she was an officer, someone who worked with tactics and strategy and could lead troops in battle. What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to have been a woman,” says Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Stockholm University, who led the study.

“Written sources mention female warriors occasionally, but this is the first time that we’ve really found convincing archaeological evidence for their existence,” says Neil Price, Professor at Uppsala University’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient History.

The study is part of the ongoing ATLAS project, which is a joint effort by Stockholm University and Uppsala University supported by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Vetenskapsrådet, to investigate the genetic history of Scandinavia. The research also involves members of The Viking Phenomenon project at Uppsala, funded by Vetenskapsrådet. The study is published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Source: Uppsala University press release / American Journal of Physical Anthroplogy

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