New DNA evidence has identified two people buried in a 1,000 year-old Viking grave as a mother and son, reports the Copenhagen Post.
Previously, researchers had speculated that the man, who may have been hanged, was an enslaved individual sacrificed and buried alongside the noblewoman he served in life.
“It’s an incredibly exciting and surprising result we have here,” Ole Kastholm, an archaeologist at Denmark’s Roskilde Museum, where the remains are on display, tells TV 2 Lorry. “We need to thoroughly consider what this means.”
Archaeologists excavated the burial, known as the Gerdrup Grave, in 1981. The fact that the woman was buried with what appeared to be a lance helped overturn scholars’ assumptions about gender in Viking society. Since the site’s discovery, researchers have found a number of other Viking women buried with weapons, which could identify them as warriors or symbolize their elite status.
“Bone and DNA analyses have gradually undermined the belief that men were buried with weapons and riding equipment and women with sewing needles and the house keys,” the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde explains on its website. “Sometimes this is true, but other times the situation is reversed—there are lots of female graves that hold weapons and sometimes we even get situations where the skeleton we believe to be biologically a man … has been buried in clothing usually associated with women.”
In recent years, archaeologists have used genetic sequencing to disprove the assumption that a particularly grand tenth-century tomb filled with weapons and other artifacts associated with war belonged to a man. While 21st-century identities may not map perfectly onto the Vikings’ understandings of gender, the most likely explanation is that the Birka tomb’s occupant was a woman warrior. Viking mythology is replete with stories of such female fighters.