Archaeologists excavating a Viking graveyard in Denmark have discovered the remains of a female buried with a large axe - but she was Slavic - which leads to the question; why on earth was she buried in a Viking graveyard?
The ancient cemetery is situated on the Danish island of Langeland located between the Great Belt and the Bay of Kiel in the South Denmark Region. The discovery of a 10th century Arabian coin revealed the site as being about 1,000 years old and the woman's grave was ‘the only one’ containing a weapon.
Researchers at Poland's Ministry of Science and Higher Education said in a statement published on Science in Poland that the woman was likely “Slavic”, and came from a region in eastern Europe that is now part of present-day Poland.
The Warrior Woman’s Grave
Furthermore, the chambered style of construction seen in the woman’s grave is “reminiscent of cemetery structures from that part of the world during the Middle Ages ”.
Dr. Leszek Gardeła is an archaeologist with the University of Bonn in Germany and the University of Bergen in Norway, and he said in a statement, “the Slavic woman's skeleton was found lying in the grave and showed no obvious injuries that would have indicated how she died”.
An artist's reconstruction of the burial site in Denmark where archaeologists found the remains of a woman warrior with an axe from the South Baltic region (Mirosław Kuźma / Fair Use)
Gardeła has personally identified over 10 of the 30 graves of women that have contained weapons in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden and his findings will be published in 2020 in ‘ Amazons of the North’ which investigates the lives and deaths of Viking and Slavic women warriors. And although you have to wait until next year to read the work you can support the project on the Facebook group now.
Slavic Women Warriors
When your farm is under attack gender roles quickly go out the window and across the globe throughout history women were trained in weapon crafts and warfare.
While Scandinavian archaeologists have previously found subjective evidence that ‘some' Viking era women had been buried with their prized weapons, no actual human remains have been recovered from these graves and these gender categorizations were derived from the presence of elaborate jewelry and other objects associated with females. Having found an axe in the woman’s grave is effectively, in Dr. Gardela’s world, a smoking archaeological gun.
In a 2018 article published in Science Poland , Jerzy Litwin, director of the National Maritime Museum in Gdańsk, explains “In the early Middle Ages, between the 10th and the 12th century on the Baltic Sea , the Slavs were partners and rivals of the Scandinavians, popularly known as the Vikings”. The Slavs and the Danes fought but also cooperated and traded with each other, but in those exceptionally violent times the Slavs to a great extent raided the Scandinavian territories.
Litwin said “Slavic fleets of hundreds of boats would sail to the Scandinavian shores and make dangerous assaults. The Slavs destroyed the competitive port in Hedeby, near Schleswig, which never recovered after the Slavic raid in the 11th century”.
Love And War In Slavic Danish Relations
While Litwin and most other researchers lean on the weight of evidence which pertains to scrapping, a lot, it was not always this way, evident in the 13th century collection of sagas, Heimskringla, in which writer Snorri Sturluson tells the story of ‘ Gunhilda of Wenden’ . This semi-legendary Slavic princess and Danish Viking age queen consort was the spouse of 10th-century King Sweyn I of Denmark (986–1014).
Gunhild and her sons (Finn Bjorklid / Public Domain)
The story goes that Sweyn Forkbeard attacked the Jomsvikings and was captured by Burislav, king of Wendland. It was negotiated that Sweyn would marry Burislav’s daughter Gunhild, while Burislav himself would marry Sweyn's sister Tyri. Thus, Gunhild and Sweyn are held by many to have been the parents of Harald II of Denmark and Cnut the Great who became King of England, Denmark, and Norway, as well as governor of Schleswig and Pomerania.
Returning to the Slavic woman found in Denmark with the axe and looking at ancient Slavic burial traditions, it will no doubt be concluded that she was indeed a warrior and her axe was not a symbolic addition, but a tool of war. An article on Slavorium explains that “the act of burial and the traditions surrounding death are an important part of Slavic culture” being the furtherance in the journey of one’s soul, and it also says “a warrior was sent on his way to the other realm with his weapons, a craftsman with his tools”.
If she had a hammer, she was most probably a burly blacksmith and a horse bridle would lead us to associate her with farming, but a massive axe head can only mean she was a fierce Slavic warrior on a conquest in Viking territories, that apparently went wrong.