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Skol! Scientists say the skeleton in a Viking warrior grave was a woman

Their DNA tests confirmed it

We in Minnesota consider our state the heart of Viking country, but there actually is another one, too. 

It's in Sweden on an island in Lake Mälaren, where the Birka archaeological site has given us much of what we know about those Viking marauders who sailed the seas centuries ago. 

But scientists are rethinking what we know about Vikings – especially since the release of a paper this month that had a surprise about the gender of a skeleton well-known among Viking scholars.

Big warrior bling 

It was back in the 1880s when archaeologists dug up the grave on a prominent site next to a Viking fort at Birka. And scientists were kind of blown away by what they found.

"We were blinded by the warrior equipment," modern-day researcher Anders Gotherstrom tells the Washington Post.

Along with the human skeleton there were two shields, a sword, a spear, an ax, a battle knife, and the bones of two horses, which were highly valued back in the Tenth Century. There were even game pieces and a board that military leaders used to use to plot strategy.

The new paper published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (read it here) concludes that if all this stuff belonged to the warrior in the grave, she was a badass. 

Yes, she. Their DNA tests on the bones confirmed the skeleton was a woman's. They also concluded she lived to be at least 30 years old. 

"You can't reach such a high (military) position without having warrior experience, so it's reasonable to believe that she took part in battles," Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, another of the 10 researchers who co-authored the paper tells the Northern Star.

As National Geographic notes, Viking sagas include lots of tales of "shieldmaidens" fighting alongside male warriors.

"What we have studied was not a Valkyrie from the sagas but a real life military leader, that happens to be a woman," Hedenstierna-Jonson tells the Northern Sun, which is an Australian paper. 

Some skepticism 

Being buried with lots of warrior bling doesn't necessarily mean that this woman used that stuff, some doubters have pointed out. 

Some suggest there may have once been a male skeleton in the grave too, the Washington Post says.

One especially doubtful scholar is not even convinced the bones that were studied really came from the grave next to the fort in Birka, Mashable notes

But, for now at least, many are drinking in the image of the female Viking warrior, plotting out her strategy with game pieces and then slaying the army of the Saints from New Orleans. (Oh, sorry, those are the other Vikings.)

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