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She had a sword and a shield—in fact, she had two shields. You might consider her a wonder woman, but not the one you already know, not the one from comics and movies. A famous Viking burial site recently gave scholars a surprise. It turns out that this ancient Viking warrior, always assumed to be male, was actually a woman!

The city of Birka was an important place for trade and culture in Sweden between the years of 700 and 900. Birka is the site of many Viking-era burials with over 3,000 graves (1,100 have been excavated). The grave of a great Viking warrior, known as Bj 581, was entombed in the mid 10th century. The grave was unearthed in the 1880s.

The remains were buried with a sword, an ax, two shields, a spear, a knife, two horses and more. These items marked this as the grave of a great warrior. 

The inclusion of a gaming set in the grave showed that the warrior was a master of strategy and tactics, according to Anna Kjellström, an archaeologist from Stockholm University in Sweden.

Decades ago, some speculated that this figure might be a woman based on the size and structure of the bones. But despite accounts of female warriors in the Viking era, most scholars continued to believe this warrior was male. But recent DNA tests on an arm bone and tooth prove that this honored warrior was a woman!

The DNA evidence shows the Viking woman warrior is a distant relation of present day Northern Europeans. The analysis also confirmed the lack of a Y-chromosome, proving the skeletal remains were from a woman.

“We hope that in the future, people in the research communities as well as others won’t jump to conclusions” about the gender of archaeological finds, notes Kjellstöm.

October 2017