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Louise Sommer

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The Real Shieldmaidens

 

Here's a great example on how women have been treated by history and our gender identity shaped. 

 

The 'culturally diverse' University of Western Australia decided a few years ago to have a closer look at some viking bones found in Eastern England. It was certain that these bones were of the Norse Sea people, but an actual osteological study of the bones had never been carried out before. So Dr. Shane McLeod and a couple of other researchers went to work.

 

 

 

 

Up until now, science had always superficially identified these skeletons as male simply because they were buried with their swords and shields. Womens gender on the other hand, was identified by their oval brooches. So the osteological study brought some very important information to life; approximately half of the remains were actually female warriors, given a proper burial with their weapons. Take that! The research was published in Early Medieval Europe by Dr. Shane McLeod.

 

 

 

Photo above: A silver Shieldmaiden found in Denmark. Photo courtesey of © Odense Museum.

 

 

This research, which began as an interest in the gender of immigration, is an excellent example of the critique I present in my book The Hidden Camino; that women continuously are being ignored and misrepresented throughout history - solely because of their gender. Anyhow, I decided to search the internet to see how the media and other scholars, specialised in viking history, responded to Dr. McLeod's research. What I noticed was:

 

1. how many scholars who denied the results of this research and it's significance

 

2. how much time various articles spent defending, and repeating, the old views on women in history

 

3. zero time was spent discussing the huge problem many historians (including archaeologists and anthropologists) have, dealing with women in history and how they with great pervasiveness, keep undermining finds that challenge this view. 

 

So what Dr. McLeod's research illuminate is that previous ideas of what the vikings were and weren't, have to be re-examined and re-understood. But that goes for all of history. History books have to be re-written when it comes to women!

 

 

 

 

In my search of the net I found this little documentary (see below) made by History Channel regarding their highly popular TV-Series 'Vikings'. A series I began watching with some reluctance as I am sick and tired of the way Americans obsessively have  depicted the vikings as primitive creatures and the women being sooo suppressed. 

 

The thing is that History Channel is renown for rarely mentioning women in their history programs as well as their lack of use of female speakers/presenters. So why would I want to watch a series from them? However, the creator and producer of the Vikings, the talented Michael Hirst,  had not only performed an outstanding research into the vikings before he wrote the story, he also fought for it! In the little video below, which is in English but with Italian subtitles, is given a clear idea of how hard he had to fight. I would like to acknowledge Michael Hirst's incredible stand for trying to tell a story so much closer to the truth - than the repeated American barbarian boring tales of what they would have liked the vikings to be like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I tell people about what we actually know about the area we call viking-age today, most are shocked. They really believe the American version is the truth! So don't tell me that the way history is portrayed doesn't matter. It deeply effects our gender identity and what we think is possible via our gender - not to mention our feelings towards our cultural inheritance. The fact is, that viking women had more rights and equality than any women had at anytime during the Roman and Christian era. What is also a bit ironic to me, is the the extreme violence which has been so closely related to the vikings. The vikings weren't  any more violent than many other cultures at that time - or after, for that sake. Especially the Roman Catholics should have a very close look at their own violent history before they judge others. Welcome to Herstory!

 

Here's a link to an article about Dr. McLeod's research.

 

Another great link is Old Norse Women's Poetry - The Voice of Female Skalds

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