Concealed in iron helmets, chain mail, and leather cuirasses, Viking re-enactors make a formidable impression, revealing how these ancient raiders stirred such terror in their victims.Photograph by David Guttenfelder, National Geographic.
More than a millennium ago in what’s now south-eastern Sweden, a wealthy Viking warrior was laid to rest, in a resplendent grave filled with swords, arrowheads, and two sacrificed horses.
The site reflected the ideal of Viking male warrior life, or so many archaeologists had thought.
New DNA analyses of the bones, however, confirm a revelatory find: the grave belonged to a woman.
The study, published recently in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, sends ripples of surprise through archaeologists’ understanding of the Vikings, medieval seafarers who traded and raided across Europe for centuries.
Swift and deadly, the Vikings dominated the seas of northern Europe from the late eighth century to the 11th century.
It was held up before as kind of the ‘ideal’ Viking male warrior grave,” says Baylor University archaeologist Davide Zori, who wasn’t involved with the research.
“[The new study] goes to the heart of archaeological interpretation: that we’ve always mapped on our idea of what gender roles were.”Viking lore had long hinted that not all warriors were men”.
One early tenth-century Irish text tells of Inghen Ruaidh (“Red Girl”), a female warrior who led a Viking fleet to Ireland.
And Zori notes that numerous Viking sagas, such as the 13th-century Saga of the Volsungs, tell of “shield-maidens” fighting alongside male warriors.