A Woman in the Birka Warrior Grave

Last Updated 01 December 2017.

Birka is an important trading town during the Viking Age. It lies at the centre of Scandinavian’s busy trading networks, on the island of Björkö, west of present-day Stockholm in Lake Mälaren. Some excavations here date back more than a century, others are quite recent such as Herigar’s Hall. Any which way, archaeological research on-site improves our knowledge of daily life in the Viking Age. And it continues to improve as researchers revisit older excavations and start applying modern techniques.

Birka, Sweden (Source: Google Maps)

This ‘cold case’ type of approach[1] has recently been used on grave Bj 581 and the results are available in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.[2] It starts with the 1970s osteological analysis that: “triggered questions concerning the sex, gender and identity among Viking warriors.” Originally discovered in the 1880s the grave contains human remains, two horses and weapons, as well as a gaming board. Over the years, researchers have come to view it as the prototype of a Viking warrior grave. A male warrior, that is. The new genome study, however, surprisingly reveals that the person in the grave is actually a female in her thirties who died in the mid-tenth century. Was this woman a military leader? Or, was she for some other reason buried with symbolic warrior items in her grave?

The article gives some answers and raises more questions in the process. It refuels the scholarly debate again and a related, recommended read are the blog posts ‘Let’s Debate the Female Warriors Yet Again’[3], ‘A Female Viking Warrior Interred At Birka’[4] and the draft paper ‘Female Viking Revised’.[5]

Find here an interview about the article with one of the article’s author: Saga Thing.


  1. The archaeological ‘cold case’ is not necessarily a historical murder or crime scene. Rather it refers to an existing, older archaeological dig site revisited with modern tools and techniques. Also popularly dubbed ‘Dig Site Investigation’ in the Biblical Archaeology Review. Burke, Aaron. ’Archaeological Views: An Archaeological Cold Case Solved.’ Biblical Archaeology Review 37:5 (2011), 28. https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/37/5.)  ↩
  2. Hedenstierna-Jonson, Charlotte, Anna Kjellström, Torun Zachrisson, et al. ‘A Female Viking Warrior Confirmed by Genomics’. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2017 (early online access). doi:10.1002/ajpa.23308.   ↩
  3. Viqueen. ‘Let’s Debate Female Viking Warriors Yet Again’. Accessed 10 September 2017. http://norseandviking.blogspot.com/2017/09/lets-debate-female-viking-warriors-yet.html.  ↩
  4. Aardvarchaeology. ‘A Female Viking Warrior Interred at Birka’. Accessed 12 September 2017. http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2017/09/12/a-female-viking-warrior-interred-at-birka/.  ↩
  5. Fedir Androshchuk. ‘Female Viking Revised’. Accessed 18 September 2018. https://www.academia.edu/34564381/FEMALE_VIKING_REVISED.  ↩


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