Students hoping to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic might be predisposed to think that there isn’t anything ‘new’ that can be discovered about this seemingly old subject. However a recent discovery not only has made historians reconsider a significant moment in the creation of England as we know it, but has also once again backed up the idea that Viking warriors were female.

The idea that Vikings warriors were women is a fairly recent discovery. The famous ‘Valkyrie’ warriors were iconic figures shrouded in myth and legend, however recent discoveries in both Sweden and now through radiocarbon dating by the University of Bristol, have revealed that 20% of Viking warriors were in fact female.

The discovery also backs up the idea that in the 9th Century, the Great Heathen Army invaded the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in 865. The army would have consisted of elements from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Ireland, as it was not uncommon for different Viking leaders to join together for a common cause. They defeated the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and executed King Ælla of Northumbria by ‘blood eagle’, a rather gory method, due the King killing their father, Ragnar Lodbrok. Interestingly, ‘Lodbrok’ translates as ‘Shaggy-Breeches’ – turns out baggy trousers were popular even before they were iconicized by MC Hammer.

As the Vikings were seafarers, their diet consisted of mainly fish and sea-based food. As much of the carbon consumed by organisms in the ocean is a lot older than carbon on land, this means that dating can get tricky, and radiocarbon testing can make the remains appear much older than they actually are. This is called the ‘Marine Reservoir Effect’. The archaeologists need to correct this by essentially estimating how much seafood each of the Vikings would have eaten. 

Students hoping to study Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic may want to think about how this Viking raid shaped modern day Britain, and maybe want to delve into the interestingly named leaders/brothers of the Great Heathen Army: Ivar the Boneless, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Björn Ironside and Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

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