Valhalla was Co-Ed

QUICK HIT: The choir season starts up again tonight, which means my Wednesday posts for the foreseeable future will have to be:

  1. Pre-written and scheduled
  2. Quick and somewhat insubtantial
  3. Non-existent in a “night off” kind of way)

Obviously, today I’ve chosen option 2. Well, not entirely obviously, since I could have pre-written and scheduled this post. But trust me: I didn’t do that. Because my life and to-do list are not currently at such a level of organization and under-controlness. I’d love to tell you otherwise, but I don’t have it in my to maintain that level of facade.

Where was I? Oh yeah: QUICK HIT tonight. In more ways than one. (Go below the fold to see what I mean…)

So, in a fascinating object lesson around the risks of “you only see what you’re expecting to see,” it turns out that a lot more Viking warriors were female than the zero per cent level previously assumed:

 Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided to revamp the way they studied Viking remains. Previously, researchers had misidentified skeletons as male simply because they were buried with their swords and shields. (Female remains were identified by their oval brooches, and not much else.) By studying osteological signs of gender within the bones themselves, researchers discovered that approximately half of the remains were actually female warriors, given a proper burial with their weapons. (Tor)

So yeah: half is just a bit more than zero.

You can also find coverage of this on The Mary Sue, and on Nerdist, which summarizes the findings thusly:

And no, these female vikings weren’t just tending to fires and caring for babies: they had swords and shields of their own to fight with. We know because they were often buried with them, like badasses. In fact, it was that sort of sexist burial presumption — that only men were fighters and therefore likely buried with sword and shield — that, up until this point, left many to presume that the oft-considered brutal folk were a mainly man-fronted affair. And, well, look at what happens when you assume! Eh?

Brunhild_(Postkarte),_G._Bussiere,_1897Now, tonight I’m deliberately choosing a quick and whimsical sort of topic, to accommodate the choir thing.* However, there’s a deeper implication to all of this, one that ties back into a topic I keep circling around in recent days: the ways that dominant cultural narratives (patriarchal, racist, heterosexist — limited/prejudiced on whatever axis you want to analyze) are so damned destructive and suppressive because they limit the realm of what is possible, what can be seen — even, what can be imagined.

This is really a perfect example of that trap: for how many years was the actual, real historical record blurred and degraded because it was not even remotely possible for archeologists to imagine that Viking women were capable of being warriors? And this is even with such this strong tradition — in mythology, art and popular culture — of story-telling about shield maidens and the valkyrie. It’s just amazing to me.

There’s a story that’s told in the movie What the Bleep Do We Know? about Native Americans being initially unable to see Spanish ships on the horizon because it was such an unimaginable thing:

Now, this doesn’t match the historical record (as we currently understand it**) — and I have some discomfort about the colonialism in portraying indigenous peoples as blind and ignorant in this fashion. Nonetheless, I find it to be a powerful metaphor, and a really apt description of what has happened here around our understanding of women’s roles in Viking society.

How many other things have we blinded ourselves to, because the culture has told us they were unimaginable?

* And for the record? We got out early tonight. The rest of the year, Wednesdays are going to be effing exhausting.

** Considering how this whole post is about the many ways our current understanding of the historical record can be wrong wrong wrong, I feel compelled to add this small disclaimer.


Image credit: “Brunhild (Postkarte)” by Gaston Bussiere, public domain (retrieved from,_G._Bussiere,_1897.jpg )

One thought on “Valhalla was Co-Ed

  1. Pingback: Either-Or – Self-Love: It's Just Another Lifestyle Change

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