DNA confirms Viking remains found in Sweden are female

Scientists have confirmed that human remains interred in a prominent Viking warrior grave in Sweden were those of a woman and not a man, a discovery that raises provocative questions about gender roles and limitations in the male-dominated ancient society.

The woman's remains were entombed in a "well-furnished" grave in the Viking-age town of Birka and were excavated in the 1880s, but it was only through DNA testing that her sex was determined, according to findings published Friday in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Not only was she a warrior, but the grave suggests she was a high-ranking one. Along with her remains, archaeologists found a sword, an ax, a spear, armor-piercing arrows, a bottle knife, two shields and two horses – the complete equipment of a professional warrior. Furthermore, a full set of gaming pieces with the remains implied she had knowledge of tactics and strategy and confirmed her role as a high-ranking officer, the findings state.

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Ales Stenar -- also known as the Swedish Stonehenge
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Ales Stenar -- also known as the Swedish Stonehenge
Sweden, Kaseberga 11th, August 2015 Ales Stenar (Ale's Stones) called also Swedish Stonehenge complex at the hill on the Baltic Sea coast. Ales Stenat is megalithic monument in a stone ship shape oval in outline, with the stones at each end markedly larger than the rest. It is 67-metres long formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Ales stenar was build probably in 6th or 7th century by the Vikings ancestors (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Sweden, Kaseberga 11th, August 2015 Ales Stenar (Ale's Stones) called also Swedish Stonehenge complex at the hill on the Baltic Sea coast. Ales Stenat is megalithic monument in a stone ship shape oval in outline, with the stones at each end markedly larger than the rest. It is 67-metres long formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Ales stenar was build probably in 6th or 7th century by the Vikings ancestors (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Sweden, Kaseberga 11th, August 2015 Ales Stenar (Ale's Stones) called also Swedish Stonehenge complex at the hill on the Baltic Sea coast. Ales Stenat is megalithic monument in a stone ship shape oval in outline, with the stones at each end markedly larger than the rest. It is 67-metres long formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Ales stenar was build probably in 6th or 7th century by the Vikings ancestors (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Sweden, Kaseberga 11th, August 2015 Ales Stenar (Ale's Stones) called also Swedish Stonehenge complex at the hill on the Baltic Sea coast. Ales Stenat is megalithic monument in a stone ship shape oval in outline, with the stones at each end markedly larger than the rest. It is 67-metres long formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Ales stenar was build probably in 6th or 7th century by the Vikings ancestors (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People visiting the Ales Stenar are seen on 30 July 2017 in Kaseberga , Sweden Ales Stenar (Ale's Stones) called also Swedish Stonehenge complex at the hill on the Baltic Sea coast. Ales Stenat is megalithic monument in a stone ship shape oval in outline, with the stones at each end markedly larger than the rest. It is 67-metres long formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Ales stenar was build probably in 6th or 7th century by the Vikings ancestors (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People visiting the Ales Stenar are seen on 30 July 2017 in Kaseberga , Sweden Ales Stenar (Ale's Stones) called also Swedish Stonehenge complex at the hill on the Baltic Sea coast. Ales Stenat is megalithic monument in a stone ship shape oval in outline, with the stones at each end markedly larger than the rest. It is 67-metres long formed by 59 large boulders, weighing up to 1.8 tonnes each. Ales stenar was build probably in 6th or 7th century by the Vikings ancestors (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Ale's Stones / Ales stenar, megalithic stone oval monument representing stone ship near Kaseberga, Skane, Sweden. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)
Ale's Stones / Ales stenar, megalithic stone oval monument representing stone ship near Kaseberga, Skane, Sweden. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)
Ale's Stones / Ales stenar, megalithic stone oval monument representing stone ship near Kaseberga, Skane, Sweden. (Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images)
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"Aside from the complete warrior equipment buried along with her... she had a board game in her lap, or more of a war-planning game used to try out battle tactics and strategies, which indicates she was a powerful military leader. She's most likely planned, led and taken part in battles," Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, an archaeologist at Uppsala University told The Local.

The remains had been assumed to have been those of a man because of the armor found with them. However, Anna Kjellstrom, an osteologist at Stockholm University, began studying them in 2016 and noticed feminine qualities, such as thinner cheekbones and "typically feminine" hips, according to The Local.

"This image of the male warrior in a patriarchal society was reinforced by research traditions and contemporary preconceptions. Hence, the biological sex of the individual was taken for granted," Hedenstierna-Jonson, Kjellstrom and the eight other researchers behind the study, wrote in their report.

Hedenstierna-Jonson told The Local it was uncommon for women to hold high roles in the Viking military and the woman would have needed to have battle experience to get there. Although there had been stories of female warriors, the finding marks the first confirmation.

Hedenstierna-Jonson added that this was a "fantastic find," but "unlikely to completely up-end historians' view of the Viking society as being patriarchal, mainly constituting of male warriors."

(Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report)

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