New DNA Evidence Strongly Suggests There Were Female Viking Warriors

Photo: AP (from a 2012 Vikings Festival in Spain, but you get the picture)
Photo: AP (from a 2012 Vikings Festival in Spain, but you get the picture)

A study published last week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology reports that a DNA analysis of bones interred in a grave assumed to belong to a Viking warrior found that the human remains, first excavated in the 19th century, were those of a woman. The research strongly suggests that the woman was a not only a warrior, but a high-ranking, wealthy one, as she was buried in a grave filled with arrowheads, swords, and a couple of sacrificed horses.

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, the archeologist at Uppsala University who led the research on that Viking grave told The Guardian on Tuesday, “Before we knew it was a woman, it was interpreted as a warrior grave. Nothing in the archeology has changed—only the gender. I do believe she was a warrior.”

As National Geographic notes, there are scattered throughout Viking mythology several hints at the existence of female warriors. The 13th-century Saga of Volsungs, for instance, discusses “shield-maidens” who fought alongside men, and a 10th-century text tells the story of Inghen Ruaidh, the “Red Girl,” who commanded a Viking fleet that sailed to Ireland.


Becky Gowland, a lecturer on archeology at Durham University, told The Guardian that presuming the a degraded body’s gender is an error archeologists make all too often: “Because it was buried with weapons, [people assumed] it must be a man. I think that’s a mistake the archeologists make quite often. When we do that, we’re just reproducing the past.” If true, this suggests there could be more hard scientific evidence of female Viking warriors that has been overlooked and undermined by modern-day sexism.

And, speaking of modern-day sexism, it may not be highly evolved, but it sure is thriving.

contributing writer, nights

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Commander Spicer

Just want to chime in as someone who studies this: we already knew that women went along on raids. From archaeological evidence we’ve known for a long time that in England for instance the Norse fully intended to set up a society rather than simply raid and go home because there are roughly equal amounts of male and female remains.