For centuries Vikings have been the pillar and prime example of masculinity.
The legendary Norse warriors who raided and conquered countries across Europe are still revered for their weapons, warfare, and advanced navigational skills today. Within the fields of archaeology and anthropology, we’ve studied the burial grounds of these warriors to get a sense of their culture, social structure, and gender roles. When it came to those gender roles, vikings were pretty liberal for their time. Women were fairly free, could inherit land and could take the place as the head of their families.
There wasn’t much a woman couldn’t do, and a recent discovery has proven that all the more.
In southeastern Sweden, a Viking burial ground was discovered. This warrior was laid to rest in an elaborate tomb filled with arrowheads, swords, and sacrificial animals. They were believed to be a Viking leader and a prime example of a strong male warrior who was exalted in his community. Recently, DNA results and bone analysis tell a different story.
This bad ass Viking leader was actually a woman.
You heard it, right ladies.
Norse women were not only leaders of their households and owned land, but they could also be Vikings and more specifically Viking leaders. This news has been absolutely groundbreaking and is finally helping to change the narrative that for centuries women have been subservient, dumb, and only worth one thing. Though, it seems that even when we did hold positions of power our stories have been erased.
Science, one of the most male-dominated industries of all, is exactly what led to this warrior’s erasure. Norse artifacts have always indicated that female Vikings existed but for a while, scientists just blew evidence off as mythological because a female Viking wasn’t something really believable. Despite the fact that Norse sagas spoke of these women and their ferocity as shield maidens and then Valkyries. One saga told the story of Hervor who first had to take up a masculine role but then went on to being a badass female pirate.
It took another awesome woman to go back in and analyze this burial to prove that this leader was, in fact, a woman and after she proved it, she was still questioned on her validity. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson had to go above and beyond to prove not only the sex but the region this viking was from and what her burial gifts indicated of her status.
This discovery means so much to me both as an anthropologist and as a woman. I’ve always been the girl who liked more “male-gendered activities” like swordplay and pretty much any activity where I got to be aggressive. It’s been amazing to see modern day women kicking butt in male-dominated industries like sports, engineering, and medicine, but these women are always viewed as “other” and completely unique. And while these women are definitely special in their own right, this Viking warrior proves that we’ve been here.
Women have always been here doing what we want to do and doing it amazingly.
Furthermore, the fact that this Viking was a leader speaks volumes because the gap between male and female leaders in the workplace is huge. Women hold 52% of professional jobs but only 14.1% are CEOs and only 8.1% of women are the top earners in a given company. Even in fields where women do dominate like the culinary industry and fashion, men still are at the top making the most money.
This Viking is helping push and prove the narrative that women are amazing and that we can do anything men do, and often better.