Vikings, I think we can all agree, were strong, intimidating, somewhat terrifying historical figures, what with their armor and their gods and their funerals where they cremated people on ships. But now it turns out that Viking warriors probably weren't just the burly, helmeted dudes we're all used to seeing — there also may have been an equal number of Viking warrior women. Because hell yeah there were.
This new information comes from a recent study of Viking remains, which suggests archeologists may have spent years incorrectly identifying female Vikings' remains as male. Recently, researchers from the University of Western Australia looked at 14 Viking remains found in England, presumably some of the Viking invaders from 900 CE, and rather than assuming that being buried with a knife or a sword indicated the body was male, the researchers actually looked for osteological signs indicating sex. They found that of the 14 bodies they examined, six were female, seven were male, and one was indeterminable.
To the scientists, this suggests a few things. First, it turns out our image of Vikings as ruthless invaders hell-bent on rape and pillage is probably pretty exaggerated. The Vikings who sailed to England may have been more "marriage-minded colonists" than blood-thirsty rogues.
However, this data also suggests that archeologists may have been misidentifying Viking remains for years. Several of the Vikings identified as female by these researchers would most likely have been classified as male under traditional sorting methods, due to the simple fact that they were buried with weapons. In other words, the historical notion that there were no female Viking warriors may be based in nothing more than female warriors being classed as male after being buried with swords. Because why would you check something like that? No one's ever found female Viking warriors, right?
You see where I'm going with this circular logic thing, yeah?
Of course, one study doesn't prove that there was actual gender equality among the ranks of Viking warriors. Still, it raises some important questions. After all, if archeologists are letting their sexist assumptions affect the way they collect and classify data about the past, that has some pretty troubling implications. For instance, when people argue in favor of "traditional" gender roles, they often cite history, saying that since this is how things have always been, clearly it's natural and therefore right.
For the record, gender roles have never been constant. Gender has functioned differently in different eras and different parts of the world. And if we are imposing our own ideas about gender back onto the past, that's not only bad for the modern fight for gender equality, but it's also just bad science.
So if archeologists could stop making sexist assumptions and maybe start being thorough researchers, that would great. Sound good, guys?
(Oh, and while we're calling out Viking-related sexism, would this be a good time to point out Thor's gender change was obviously even less of an issue than we thought before?)