This Viking’s skeleton, which was buried alongside weapons and horses, was found in 1889. Over a century later, archaeologists still assumed the skeleton was that of a high-status male warrior. But DNA analysis revealed the surprising truth.
Who Was This High-Status Viking Warrior?
Published: May 29, 2019
NARRATOR: This skeleton was found in 1889, 30 miles from Stockholm, at the Viking island stronghold of Birka. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson has recently reopened the case file on the ‘Birka Warrior.’
CHARLOTTE HEDENSTIERNA-JONSON: This is my, my baby at the moment, yes.
CAT JARMAN: Oh, wow!
NARRATOR: Charlotte’s been able to use the original archaeologists’ field drawing to reconstruct how the skeleton was found. The body was buried with a sword, battle-axe, and some unexpected companions.
HEDENSTIERNA-JONSON: In the foot end of the grave there was two horses.
JARMAN: Two complete horses?
HEDENSTIERNA-JONSON: Two complete horses. So, this is a very spectacular high-status grave. From the very beginning, it’s been interpreted as a warrior grave. And we would, of course, interpret this as a male. But, last year we got the results back from an ancient DNA analysis and it’s definitely confirmed to be a woman.
HEDENSTIERNA-JONSON: And that caused quite a stir!
NARRATOR: DNA extracted from the jawbone proved that this was a strong, healthy woman in her thirties. Her bones show no sign of how she died. But the weapons in her grave suggest the position she held in life.
HEDENSTIERNA-JONSON: She is buried as a warrior. We can of course never prove that she was actively a warrior in life. But I think she was a warrior and I think that’s the message they wanted to convey that we’re reading now, 1,100 years later.
Lost Viking Army
Produced and Directed by: Peter Gauvain
Edited by: Ian Meller
Digital Producer: Sukee Bennett and Ron Auer
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2019