The 1,000-yr-old face of a Viking warrior woman has been recreated and it’s stunning. When archaeologists and scientists work together to unravel secrets long buried, the results are sometimes startling.
Such is the case of a Viking female warrior found in Norway, near the town of Solor. When first discovered the remains were scant and inconclusive. Now, thanks to modern forensic and facial reconstruction techniques, the formerly anonymous woman has a face, at least a computer generated one. And a photo of that reconstruction shows the warrior woman looks startlingly like any woman encountered on the street today, albeit with evidence of some serious blow to the forehead.
Experts say the remains are approximately 1,000 years old, and the skull clearly took a terrible blow, perhaps in battle. One of the archaeologists on the team that brought the remains to life is Ella Al-Shamahi. In early November, Al-Shamahi told the Daily Mail that she was thrilled about the discovery, and the recreation. “I’m so excited,” she began, “because this is a face that hasn’t been seen in 1,000 years – she’s suddenly very real.”
A facial reconstruction image of the skull of the Viking woman found at Birka shows a large head injury, possibly sustained in battle. Photograph: National Geographic pic.twitter.com/StCtjOPaGA
— Vikingverse (@vikingverse) November 3, 2019
For decades, women were assumed to be on the sidelines of battles, not participants. However, the appearance of her cranium suggests she did indeed take part in combat. Initially, when the remains were found in a large Viking burial site, no one suspected she was a warrior for the sole reason that she was a woman. Now, Al-Shamahi says she is proof that females did indeed take part in battles.
Although the burial site is very important to archaeologists and researchers, it is far from the only Viking grave found in Norway. Neil Price, a professor and archaeology consultant, said he wouldn’t be surprised to find more warrior women.
The notion of the Viking warrior women has been portrayed in popular culture such as the TV series Vikings but the archaeology and science of it is just being unearthed and the reality, however small a scale it is so far, can no longer be denied, thanks to this particular find. History notes that this woman was originally assumed to be another male skeleton until Anna Kjellström, an osteologist from Stockholm University, noticed that the remains suggested she was female. DNA confirmed her belief.
— Stockholm University (@Stockholm_Uni) September 8, 2017
The find is of such significance, as is the cutting edge technology used to recreate her face, that Al-Shamahi is hosting a National Geographic documentary on the case. During the hour-long program, she will explain the science behind recreation methods, and travel around Norway showing viewers various Viking burial sites.
It airs in Britain in early December and will no doubt make its way to other countries for viewing later this year. The recreation, including items found with the skeleton, are on exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Oslo.
Further proof of the woman’s status as a fighter are the weapons with which she was buried, including arrows, an axe, and a spear. They are also part of the display at the Museum. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, from the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, Sweden, was the leader of this research.
She is quoted in EurekAlert noting, “What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman”.
Historians may have resisted the notion that women were on battlefields because, simply put, they lacked the physical strength to successfully take on an opponent – especially in the Viking Age. However, firing a bow and arrow from a distance or using a spear while on horseback, negates the assumption that women weren’t capable of fighting. And now, with the recreated face of a female warrior, there is proof that at least some women stood beside their men in the midst of battle.