Thursday, 11 September 2014

Viking Women Warriors

There's been a recent study showing that 50% of the burials at a particular Viking site were women who had come from Scandinavia - they can tell this by isotopes in the bones - and some of those women were buried with weapons.
This does not mean that half of all Viking warriors were women. For a start, the sample is too small to extrapolate like that. It does mean that people should stop making assumptions and start looking at the evidence.
Previously, it has been assumed that a man buried with a sword was a warrior, and that a body with a sword was always a man. Occasionally, it has been shown that women were buried with weapons, but instead of making the same assumptions as one would if it were a man, the excuses begin - oh, it didn't mean she fought; it was just a symbol of authority. There's a burial from the Isle of Man which is mentioned in Anglo-Saxon Women by Christina Fell which always cheers me up when I re-read it, because there is no doubt that this was a woman who fought, and did embroidery as well. Why shouldn't that be true? And why shouldn't men be allowed to both fight and do embroidery?
Not everyone fits into neat little gender-assigned boxes, and things which are "obviously" feminine in one generation or in one part of the world can be "obviously" masculine elsewhere. I once saw a documentary which included a group of people in Madagascar or somewhere similar where only the men did embroidery, because the women "obviously" didn't have the fine motor skills necessary for the best work.
There's another class of burials which are obviously of women, but who have a "sword-like" object with them. And instead of saying "It's a sword", this has been interpreted as being a tool for weaving. Having done a bit of weaving, frankly I doubt it.
Let's look at the evidence, rather than the assumptions, which will undoubtedly show us that the past was more interesting and with greater variation than we ever assumed.

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