Burial in Birka: Shieldmaiden Existed or Scholars Rewrote History?
Not a time does any archaeological discovery of the Viking remains disappoint us. Because whatever kinds of discovery it might be, it must consist of either message or mystery from the past. Among the famous excavations, there is one archaeological dig that has been giving rise to controversies. That mentioned is the Viking tomb in Birka which stored the skeletons of a woman whom the archaeologists thought as the shieldmaiden (Viking female warriors).
Largertha the famous Viking Shieldmaiden in TV Series "Vikings"
If you are Viking enthusiasts, chances are that you have heard about the term "shieldmaiden". The historical existence of the shieldmaiden is still surrounded by mystery and this finding in Birka is sure to excite us a lot, isn't it?
Did the Viking Shieldmaiden Exist?
The year was 1889 when that grave was first excavated. But it was not until 2017 that the analysis of DNA concluded the remains inside Birka grave belonged to a woman. To make it right, the archaeologists called that grave Bj 581 found on the island of Bjorko which was a gateway to the Baltic Sea. There were up to 1,100 graves found in the site.
The location of Birka and the archaeological site (Cre: NYTimes.com)
The Viking woman in Bj 581 was buried with many weaponry and luxurious items which made the archaeologists believe that she belonged to a noble and wealthy family. A group of archaeologists firmly believed that the items buried with the dead Vikings were the daily items that they used. So inside the Bj 581, they found two shields, a sword, an axe, a spear, an arrow, battle knife, and the remains of two horses. Such weaponry items really astonished the archaeologists. Everything inside the grave initially blinded the archaeologists, leading them to believing that the figure inside Bj 581 was a man when the truth finally revealed in 2017. The Viking chess table rested in her lap suggested that the woman might be very wise and she might have made some important decisions in war tactics.
A look at the Bj 581 grave in the 19th century (Cre: Evald Hansen/The Swedish History Museum)
The reconstruction of the Viking grave of Bj 581 in Birka
Or the Scholars just Rewrote the History?
One group of scholars, on the other hand, refused the claim of the mentioned group of archaeologists. Judith Jesch a professor of Viking studies in the University of Nottingham in England said that it was because of the emotional lure that made the archaeologists jump into the conclusion. Motivated by the great fascination of the historical existence of the Viking shieldmaiden, they wanted a shieldmaiden, the scientific research made her a woman, and the "archaeological context" made her a warrior.
She also pointed out that some archaeologists ruled out the questions why the female bones ended up in the grave of a warrior and the board game conclusion was too speculative.
And the battle between scholars doesn't seem to stop yet. As one group of archaeologists refuted what Professor Jesch criticized. They claimed two possibilities: one, the woman was a shieldmaiden, two, she was the heirloom of a great Viking warrior.
Whatever the final result, many of the Viking enthusiasts choose to believe the Viking Wonder Woman did exist
Viking enthusiasts Looking Forward to Future Official Conclusion
Unfortunately, there has been no firm conclusion about Bj 581 though it is the golden example put forward to strengthen the historical existence of Viking shieldmaiden. According to Dick Harrison, a historian in Lund University, over the past 40 years, the Viking excavations have driven the archaeologists to rethink about the Viking Age seriously. Remains of women pointed out that they were the priestesses and leaders, too. And because the missions of the archaeologists is to discover the truth in the past, they think it is about time to rewrite the real history.