Sunday, July 24, 2011

All Hail Viking Women!

Apparently Helga made the trip too!
It seems that the Viking invasions of England in the 900s were much more a mixed group of men and women than previously thought.  From DNA testing of Viking burials it seems that as many as half of the Viking invaders may have been women.
However, McLeod notes that recently, burials of female Norse immigrants have started to turn up in Eastern England. "An increase in the number of finds of Norse-style jewellery in the last two decades has led some scholars to suggest a larger number of female settlers. Indeed, it has been noted that there are more Norse female dress items than those worn by men," says the study.

So, the study looked at 14 Viking burials from the era, definable by the Norse grave goods found with them and isotopes found in their bones that reveal their birthplace. The bones were sorted for telltale osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male burial.

Overall, McLeod reports that six of the 14 burials were of women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. Warlike grave goods may have misled earlier researchers about the gender of Viking invaders, the study suggests. At a mass burial site called Repton Woods, "(d)espite the remains of three swords being recovered from the site, all three burials that could be sexed osteologically were thought to be female, including one with a sword and shield," says the study.
Never assume that women can't handle a sword.  Never...
Another study that warns against the equation of swords with Norse males, and the problems of gender was done by Anne Graslund. She assessed a similar bias of interpreting swords as male and jewellery as female. She argued instead that osteological sex was just as important, as females with warrior style burials had been discovered. She concluded that women were equal to men, but served a different role as caretaker of the house, and had the agency to become extremely powerful. With the Norse intending to settle England, it would have been important to bring the women with them. Further, textual evidence from the Vikings themselves discusses the roles of powerful female queens such as Thyra who ruled in her husband’s absence, and Saxon text from 1200 states that “there were once women in Denmark who dressed themselves to look like men and spent almost every minute cultivating soldiers’ skills”.

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