During the glory of the Vikings, Birka was among the most important town, politically and economically. Unfortunately, this town was quickly abandoned and the Birka inhabitants moved to other new towns. These days, Birka has been a favorite spot for archaeology. At a rough guess, there are 3,000 graves under Birka. Among the complete excavations, Birka BJ581 is one of the most interesting discovery. First, the archaeologists found out it was a well-furnished grave a great warrior. Later, they realized that the skeleton insider Birka BJ581 was of a woman.
In September, 2017, Viking scholars and enthusiasts were dazzled to the core for the news of Birka BJ 581. It presented the result of a DNA analysis on the skeletons inside the grave. The result contradicted to what people had been assuming about the remains inside BJ 581. A well-furnished grave full of weapons and two horses should have belonged to the Viking male warrior. But the DNA result showed that BJ 581 belonged to a female. This finding is important. Because for long, the scholars and historians have been arguing the historical existence of the Viking female warrior or the Shieldmaiden.
Inside Birka BJ581
It was a 3.45 x 1.75m underground burial chamber. The year the archaeologists excavated it was around 1870s. Inside the burial, the deceased rested in a sitting position. “The figure” was wearing luxurious garments with silk and silver decorations.
Weapons surrounded “the figure” inside BJ 581. Two shields were placed, one at the end of the head and the other at the foot end of the chamber. The most common Viking-era weapons appeared in the grave: a sword, an axe, a spear, arrows, and battle knife. The two horses were one mare and one stallion. A set of 28 pieces of game and three dices were found in the lap of the deceased.
The grave after excavation quickly captured the attention of the archaeologists and scholars. Because what were inside the BJ 581 made it stand out from other graves in Birka. And for roughly 130 years, the Birka BJ 581 was assumed to belong to a Viking male warrior.
Analysis in the 21th century
About 1970s, the archaeologists started to doubt the assumption that the remains inside Birka BJ581 belonged to a male. But it was not until 2014 that bioarchaeologicial team found out that the remains of BJ 581 belonged to a woman after re-analyzing the grave. They start to rethink about the identity of the deceased inside BJ 581.
The insightful archaeologists presented that the woman did not originate in Birka. Rather, she came from the Southern part of Scandinavia. With the result, they firmly believed that the woman could have lived as an itinerant from place to place.
Thanks to osteology, we learn that she died at her thirties. She was tall, about 170cm (5.6 ft). No trauma on the bones was visible.
But by far, the majority of the Viking historians and scholars agree that Birka BJ 581 is not enough to attest to historical existence of Viking Shieldmaiden. Because the deceased inside BJ 581 could also be the heir of a Viking great warrior. And she could have brought her family heirloom with her in her grave.
One thing surely that the BJ 581 can attest to is the power of the Viking woman in their society. In other word, BJ 581 supported that the Viking woman had certain power in their time for her grave was so luxurious.