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Half of Viking invaders may have been women, says study

A scene from Vikings

Fans of the hit series Vikings have died and gone to Valhalla.

Turns out that smoky-eyed shieldmaidens such as Lagertha (wife of the mighty Ragnar) aren't just a feminist fantasy. In fact, Norse invaders in eastern England may have included as many women as men, Tor.com reports. (As for smoky eyes, kohl eye makeup was reportedly all the rage for men and women in Viking times.) Previously, archeologists assumed that any Viking buried with a weapon had to be male. But in a study from the University of Western Australia, researchers used bone analysis to verify the sex of 14 Viking corpses.

They found that six were woman, seven were men and one was undeterminable. At least one corpse buried with a sword and shield was confirmed to be female.

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"These results, six female Norse migrants and seven male, should caution against assuming that the great majority of Norse migrants were male, despite the other forms of evidence suggesting the contrary," the study said.

But lest we get carried away with images of ax-wielding demigoddesses whose breastplates runneth over, it's worth noting the comments of Tor.com reader Andrew W, who claims to be a specialist in early Middle Ages burial. Even if he's not who he says he is, he raises a valid point. Although several female corpses were buried with weapons, the majority of the Norse women settlers mentioned in the study were found with oval brooches used to hold up their aprons, he wrote. He added that the gist of the study is that women migrated from Scandinavia to England with the invading Viking army.

On the plus side, "while women buried with weapons are rare, they *are* being found," he pointed out.

Archeology is finally catching up to a growing army of fictional women butt-kickers, from Xena, Warrior Princess of the 1990s, to Astrid, the fierce Viking girl in How to Train your Dragon. In July, Marvel Comics made a great leap for woman-warrior kind by announcing that a female Thor will soon replace the "unworthy" former Thunder God.

Describing his new female hero, series writer Jason Aaron emphasized that "This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe."

Any vestigial misogynists out there better run for cover.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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