Archaeologists astounded by contents of Viking woman warriors grave: Its something else

Sweden: Expert discusses viking burials in Öland in 2019

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The Vikings are known to have been some of history’s most deadly warriors. Their mark on Europe was from about 700 to 1100 AD. During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and travelled by longboat to nearby countries, like Britain and Ireland, slowly conquering much of the lands and pillaging goods.

Many, however, remained at home, governing and protecting their ancestral lands.

Birka, Sweden, was a wealthy trading town during this period – and was under constant threat.

Signe was a female Viking warrior believed to have lived in and protected the town.

However, according to the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Epic Warrior Women’, her luck ran out after a siege led to her death.

In her lifetime, Signe is said to have become a pillar of Birka society.

Unlike her father, she was buried with the full honours of a Viking leader, which astounded archaeologists when they later discovered that her remains, found in 1889, were those of a woman.

Researchers believe she was around 30 years old when she died.

She was also relatively tall for the time — around five foot and five inches.

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Her remains were found in 1899, but because of her stature and the belongings found in her grave, researchers long believed that her remains belonged to a man.

Viking funerals offered the deceased and their family a way to display their wealth, status in society and connections — a show for the people that are living.

In Signe’s grave, a special kind of headgear made of silk was found, along with a gaming board and gaming pieces.

Gaming pieces in grey material is a common discovery for archaeologists working on Viking sites, and were used to strategise battle tactics, according to bioarchaeologist Kristina Killgrove.


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Dr Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson from Stockholm and Uppsala University, noted that the full gaming set in Signe’s grave was a particularly rare find.

She said: “To have a complete set, including dice, is something else.

“If you’re a professional warrior your identity is extremely important.

“There was a ritual where you threw a spear over or into the grave signalling this link to Odin, the warrior god.”

Many of these pieces and boards were found in the late 19th century by archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe, who dug up hundreds of graves on Birka.

The 581st grave he dug belonged to the Birka woman — Signe — officially called BJ-581.

However, it wasn’t until 2017 that analysis confirmed that the remains were those of a woman.

Dr Hedenstierna-Jonson added: “[Her] grave stands out because it’s so extensively furnished.

“But everything is linked to being a part of a martial society, no household equipment — it’s just weapons.”

Viking women warriors were considered only myth or legend for decades.

Yet, Signe and several other examples have provided strong evidence that women held high-ranking warrior roles in Viking society.

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