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New Discoveries, Or At Least New Questions, and Women Warriors

Last week a news report from Livescience.com popped up in my Google alerts. (1) Archaeologist Leszek Gardeła has concluded that the remains of a woman buried with an axe on the Danish island of Langeland was not “a Viking”. (2) Both the form of the burial and the style of the axe suggest that she may have been ethnically Slavic.

The news is not the burial itself, which was discovered some time ago, but Gardela’s interpretation. Gardela came across it as part of his efforts to catalog and study female graves throughout Scandinavia from the 8th through the tenth centuries. His willingness to look at these graves from new angles raises all kinds of interesting questions, not only about women warriors in medieval Northern Europe, Viking and otherwise,(3) but about women and long distance travel in the medieval world. (Not only is a seemingly Slavic woman buried with a Slavic axe in Denmark, but she had an Arabic coin.(5) )

All I can say is, “Don’t touch that dial!”

(1) Here’s the link for anyone who is interested: https://www.livescience.com/66023-slavic-warrior-woman.html Here is a another report of the same story: http://scienceinpoland.pap.pl/en/news/news,77881,polish-researcher-identified-possible-grave-slavic-warrior-woman-denmark.html Personally, I’m eager to see Gardela’s paper on his study of Scandinavian and Slavic women, part of a project titled “Amazons of the North”, which is due out in 2020. I read several of his papers when I was researching the Birka woman for Women Warriors —fascinating stuff.

(2) “Viking” has become shorthand in media speak for a medieval era person with a what forensic anthropologists describe as a “genetic affinity” to modern Europeans from what is now Sweden. In fact, the term is more complicated.

(3)Medieval traditions of Slavic women warriors—most notably the race of horse-riding, sword-wielding female warriors from the steppes known as polianitsy (4)—have not caught the western imagination the same way Viking sword maidens have. I have some reading to do.

(4) Amazons, anyone?

(5)There’s a story there for a historical novelist.

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