Viking Shieldmaiden Burial: Wonder Women Lived

Women are important in any society no matter what your opinion is. In the Viking age, the women were, too. But they spent most of their time working within the threshold do the housework. A Viking girl turned 12 meaning she had to master household skills to be a mother. Cleaning the house, cooking the meal, brewing the ale, etc. What has been fascinating us recently is the other part of the Viking women. The other part I mean is the part “outside the threshold” and the name for this is Shieldmaiden – Viking female warrior. The archaeologists have found Viking shieldmaiden burial leaving us with both excite and wonder. This blog post is about the excavation of the Viking shieldmaiden.

Two famous excavations of the Viking shieldmaiden we are to discuss include the Oseberg burial and the Birka burial. Both of the burials belong to the women who lived in the Viking Age. While the Oseberg burial is more luxurious, the Birka burial only includes the weapons.

The Oseberg burial: Women of Nobility and Wealth

If we ever do a international competition about the tomb luxury, consider the Viking Oseberg burial to be in the list.

Oseberg Viking shieldmaiden burial
A modern reconstruction of the Viking Oseberg burial site

In August, 1903, someone arrived at the doorway of Gabriel Gustafson’s house. Gabriel Gustafson was an archaeologist and this arrival was the most interesting visit ever in his life. It was Oskar Rom a farmer who knocked at the door to inform the archaeologist that he had dug up a remains of a ship. Without any hesitation, Gustafson started his excavation only to find out one of the most luxurious tombs dating back to the Viking Age.

What’s inside?

It turned out to be a Viking shieldmaiden burial mound with a Viking ship after all. The ship was a part of the funeral ritual for the wealthy Viking family at the time. The Oseberg ship was made completely by oak. The awesome patterns on the ship later became the Oseberg style which people often call that gripping beast.

What astonished the archaeologists the most was the ones that the burial mound was dedicated to. Digging into the mound, the archaeologists found out the remains of two women inside. The two women were resting on the bed with many items around them. The list of items included clothes, shoes, combs, farm tools, utensils, sleighs, carts, 5 animal head posts, 5 beds, 5 tents, 15 horses, 6 dogs, and 2 little cows, etc.

Viking burial Viking shieldmaiden burial
The excavation of the Oseberg burial mound

After examining the remains, the archaeologists concluded that one woman died at her 80s while the other was around her 40s. The older woman seemed to die of cancer which was unknown in the Viking age. However, the archaeologists could not identify why the younger woman died.

Theories about the remains of the two women varied a lot. Many believed that older woman was the owner of the tomb and the younger was the slave. Some other people hold firm belief that both of them were the owners of the tomb. However, everything remains to be seen. Lately, the archaeologists have found out that the younger woman had used the toothpick due to the marks on her teeth. In the Viking age, the toothpick was a luxurious item. Both of the women enjoyed the diet full of meat – a luxurious type of Viking food. The DNA of the two are not enough to conclude whether they were relatives or not.

BJ581 Burial: Viking shieldmaiden burial in Birka town of Viking remains

Birka is one of the famous Viking site. In the past, Birka used to be a hectic trading center. But for roughly a century, the town was abandoned. In this day and age, every cut into the surface of the Birka town reveals something about the Viking age. Birka includes 6 cemeteries one of which consists of 1,600 burials. The most famous Birka burial mound must be the BJ581 because it belonged to a Viking woman.

In 1889, the archaeologists opened to burial tomb for the first time. But at the time, the weapons inside the tomb shadowed the remains inside this Viking shieldmaiden burial. The archaeologists spent most of their time examining the weapons for the tomb included axe, sword, shields, and 2 horses, etc.

BJ581 from above. The weapons and items inside the burial made the archaeologists in the 19th century overlook the human skeletons buried inside. They assumed that the burial site belonged to a Viking man

For 130 years, the remains inside had been assumed to be male. The modern archaeologists decided to re-examine the burial site because the remains “didn’t seem right”. The skeletons were too small to be a Viking man at the time. Then the result of the BJ581 once more time excited the archaeologists to the core. It belonged to a woman.

A reconstruction of the BJ581. A Viking woman lying in her final resting place with her daily personal items.

Looking back at the Viking saga, we can see the image of the Viking female warriors many times. But all of them were mythological. The findings of BJ581 made the archaeologists re-think about the historical existence of the Viking shieldmaidens. Though many insightful scholars refuse to believe in this Viking Shieldmaiden burial, no one can deny the fact that the BJ581 has become among the most fascinating burial sites by far.

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