A Real-Life Wonder Woman

More than a century ago, archaeologists discovered the 1,000-year-old grave of a Viking warrior in southeastern Sweden.  The “Birka Warrior” must have been high-ranking, famous or wealthy; the lavish grave was filled with weapons, shields and even two sacrificed horses.

And now, a new discovery has just been made: the warrior was a woman.

Viking legends include stories of female “shield maidens,” including Inghen Ruaidh (“Red Girl”), who led an invasion of Ireland.  But historians had dismissed these stories as myths.

In 2014, bioarcheologist Anna Kjellström examined the Birka Warrior’s pelvis and mandible, finding them to be more female in appearance.  Her work was discounted.  Perhaps bones from several bodies had gotten mixed up.

In response, Kjellström and archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson conducted DNA tests on the bones.  Their equipment included an Agilent Bioanalyzer System and High Sensitivity DNA Analysis Kit.  Their analysis shows that all the remains are from the same person.  And the bones contain no Y chromosomes.

This work provides the first genetic evidence that some Viking warriors were women.

“The identification of a female Viking warrior provides a unique insight into the Viking society,” the researchers write.  “The results call for caution against generalizations regarding social orders in past societies.”


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