Ancient tales of fierce female Vikings fighting alongside men appear to be rooted in truth, according to archaeologists in Sweden. One of the most impressive graves in a burial ground near Birka, a major Viking settlement, has turned out to be that of a woman believed to have been a powerful military leader, the Local reports.
The grave, one of thousands found in the area, had long been assumed to be that of a man but osteology and DNA tests revealed the truth.
The woman—tall for the time, at around 5'6"—lived in the 10th century and the grave was first excavated in 1880. She is the "first confirmed female high-ranking Viking warrior," researchers write in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. The gender of the warrior, who was aged somewhere over 30, wasn't discovered until an osteologist noticed her feminine hip bones while examining the remains for another project. Other female Viking soldiers have been found over the years, but none as important as the Birka warrior. "Aside from the complete warrior equipment buried along with her—a sword, an axe, a spear, armour-piercing arrows, a battle knife, shields, and two horses—she had a board game in her lap, or more of a war-planning game used to try out battle tactics and strategies, which indicates she was a powerful military leader," says archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who calls it the "ultimate warrior Viking grave." "She’s most likely planned, led, and taken part in battles."