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It wasn’t until Stockholm University osteologist Anna Kjellström reviewed the skeleton as part of another project that she noticed the bones’ structure suggested that the unknown Viking may have been a woman. A DNA sample was taken from a tooth and an arm of the skeleton, revealing no Y chromosomes were present.Illustration by Evald Hansen based on the original plan of grave Bj 581 by excavator Hjalmar Stolpe; published in 1889.“To assume that Viking men were ranked above women is to impose modern values on the past, which would be misleading,” cautions Marianne Moen.
Our assumptions of gender roles in viking society could skew the way we interpret burial findings, Moen points out.
She uses the 1904 excavation of the Oseberg long boat to illustrate the point.
Her master’s thesis argues that viking gender roles may have been more complex than we assume.
Exploring new perspectives of Viking society is a theme which also will be the focus of the forthcoming Viking Worlds conference in March 2013, where Moen is a member of the organising committee.
Generally it is fairly obvious what constitutes male or female objects, but the lines were sometimes blurred.” Added to this, the larger metal objects usually found in male graves are more likely to be discovered after hundreds of years - while smaller female objects such as brooches (and hence, female graves) can remain undetected.“If it is the case that women belonged to the private sphere of the home and men were in the public sphere of society, this should be reflected in the burial landscape,” Moen points out.
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But in the Kaupang area she has studied, female graves are side by side with male graves – and just as prominent.
So why isn’t Osebergskipet regarded in the same way?
” asks Moen.“There are several indicators that these women were powerful in their own right – but by defining one of them as a queen it is implied that her significance was due to who she was married to or had mothered.” And although we accept that some Viking women may have had a role as religious figures (as a ‘volve’) performing rites, we do not accord them the corresponding power they would have had in a society where religious and political power was intertwined, Moen argues.“Our perception of religion’s influence in the society is based on texts written hundreds of years afterwards, by men from a different and more misogynistic religion.”Moen feels many archaeologists have put too much emphasis on historical texts, such as Snorri Sturluson’s sagas.“As archaeologists we have to base our analyses on archaeological material.
”Since the Oseberg mound contained two women, the burial site has been analysed as a unique find, without reference to similar sites.
The finding is very similar to the Gokstadskipet long boat, which is regarded as the grave of a powerful and influential king.