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Representational image of a Viking warrior woman (DPVUE Images / Adobe Stock)

Was This Wounded Female Viking Really A Warrior?

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The wounded face of a female Viking warrior found buried with weaponry has been reconstructed.

The warrior’s skeleton was excavated in a Viking graveyard in Solør, Norway, and was found to have been buried with an arsenal of deadly weapons. Now, using facial recognition technology, a team of British scientists have brought the ancient fighter back to life and she has been preserved in Oslo's Museum of Cultural History.

The full story of the scientists quest to re-create the face of the female Viking warrior, who lived more than 1,000 years ago, will be told on Viking Warrior Women, which airs on National Geographic on Tuesday 3 December at 8pm. The documentary will show Ms Al-Shamahi venturing across Scandinavia examining Viking burial sites and reconstructing their contents, and while the titles of many of these shows are sensationalistic, there is no doubting that this particular Viking woman certainly was a “warrior”, according to archaeologist Ella Al-Shamahi.

World’s First Wounded Female Viking “Warrior”?

Al-Shamahi told reporters at The Guardian that a team of British scientists brought the female warrior back to life using cutting-edge facial recognition technology which worked anatomically from the muscles and layering of the skin. She was found with her head resting on a shield in her grave and a dent discovered on her forehead is thought to be “consistent with a sword wound”. The scientists cannot conclude that she died of this wound, however, according to Ms Al-Shamahi, this is the “first evidence ever” of a Viking woman with a battle injury.

The woman’s grave was filled with a stash of deadly weapons including a sword, an axe, a spear and arrows, which is consistent with the Vikings beliefs that such weapons would be used again in the afterlife. And the same technologies that were used to recreate the woman's grave also mapped the placement of the weapons within the grave. Ms Al-Shamahi reported that while Viking women warriors risked being overpowered in hand-to-hand combat, they might have launched storms of deadly arrows deep into enemy lines from horseback, which made their war contribution an “equal match for men”.

More Females Warriors Waiting To Be Found

Dr Caroline Erolin is a senior lecturer at the University of Dundee in the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification and having worked on the project she said that while the team of scientists know the resulting reconstruction is never 100 per cent accurate, it is detailed enough so that it would be recognized by someone who knew her in real life. And if we listen to the project’s archaeological consultant and Viking expert, Neil Price, there are so many other burials in the Viking world and he wouldn’t be surprised if more female warriors were unearthed.

This all comes only 14 weeks after I wrote about archaeologists on the Danish island of Langeland, located between the Great Belt and the Bay of Kiel in the South Denmark Region, excavating a Viking graveyard and coming across “another” female that had been buried with a large axe. Researchers at Poland's Ministry of Science and Higher Education said in a statement published on Science in Poland  that the Viking woman was likely “Slavic” from a region in eastern Europe that is now part of present-day Poland.

An article on  Slavorium attempting to explain how a Slavic woman had ended up being buried in Denmark said that the act of burial and the traditions surrounding death are an important part of Slavic culture and warriors were sent on their way to the other realm with their weapons, and a “craftsman with his tools”. And because a massive axe had been found in her grave, reports said that she could only have been a fierce Slavic warrior who had fallen while fighting in Viking territories, but not everyone agrees that an axe is evidence enough to conclude she was a “warrior”. 

A Premature Female Viking Warrior, Perhaps?

In Scandinavian Sagas, mythology and folkloric systems, shield-maidens, were formidable female warriors often associated with Odin’s mythical valkyries and while many graves of females equipped with weapons have been uncovered, archaeologists disagree about how these should be interpreted, and they are not all men, as you might be suspecting.

A good example of this debate surrounds the 10th century ‘Birka-burial’ excavated in the 1970s in England which contained large numbers of weapons and horse bones. Even after bone analysis by Anna Kjellström confirmed the so-called Birka Viking was female; Viking scholar Dr. Judith Jesch told the New York Times that concluding she had been a “warrior” was premature.

‘Brynhildr.’ Used here as a representational image of a woman warrior in the Viking Age. Source: FLOWERZZXU/ Deviant Art

‘Brynhildr.’ Used here as a representational image of a woman warrior in the Viking Age. Source: FLOWERZZXU/ Deviant Art

Careful As We Go

Dr. Jesch, who is clearly not modern-feminist attempting to rewrite history, said the researchers who conducted the tests on the Birka Viking warrior were so “determined to show that women were Viking warriors” that they overlooked loads of valid and possible explanations for why a woman’s body might have been found in the 10th century tomb.

You might at this stage be facepalming saying “they found an axe for God’s sake, of course she was a warrior!”. Well, when I get buried, I will be going with great-grandfather’s hunting knife, and if in 1000 year’s time archaeologists find me, they would be wrong to conclude that I had been a hunter. And this is why Dr. Judith Jesch thinks scientists have to be careful with interpretations, and not let modern values get in the way.

Top image: Representational image of a Viking warrior woman (DPVUE Images / Adobe Stock)

By Ashley Cowie



She could well have been born to a warrior class.
Yet, it may not stop there. Her facial features are hardly hyper-feminine, which could well mean that she was a warrior also because of a same sex-attraction background. The represention of such backgrounds in elite female sports today is at a far higher rate than would be suggested merely by chance.

One cannot think how things would have been much different a millennium ago, other than the 'sports' being a matter of life or death.

That doesn't mean that I believe that such a situation is necessary to explain warrior women per se, rather that I would be surprised if such matters never played a part.

Why is it so hard to believe women were warriors?  There are tales about Amazon warriors and they’re proven to be true.  Women have been warriors for millenia.  It’s time to accept it.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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