I find it pretty troubling that people historically assumed biological sex from grave good and never actually thought to give clout to the physical human remains themselves. Forensic osteology helps to paint a more accurate picture here, and in this case gave archaeologists solid…
NOOOO!!! HELP I CAN’T ESCAPE THIS STORY. IT’S EVERYWHERE! Inaccurate media representations of archaeology is one of my HUGE pet peeves so I HAVE to respond. For those of you who don’t know, there’s a TRULY WRETCHED tor.com post claiming that new research shows 50% of Viking warriors were female. This is one of the most egregious examples of shitty science reporting I’ve seen in ages for a bunch of reasons.
1. It’s not news. The post they’re referring to is from 2011. So why the big fuss all of a sudden.
2. What the authors of the original study actually say is that around 50% of the skeletons, 6 out of a total of 13, were probably female. ONLY ONE OF THESE FEMALE SKELETONS WAS BURIED WITH A SWORD AND SHIELD. What the authors actually say is that women were a large element of Viking migration. At no point do they claim 50% of the warriors were women. Tor.com says that because no one ever taught them to read carefully or think critically.
3. The authors of the original study are properly cautious regarding their claims about the sex of the skeletons. Everyone knows how difficult it can be to determine sex from osteological remains, and it’s one area where there is almost always some room for debate. Although if you have a complete pelvis, you can usually get a pretty reliable reading of the sex, people generally still refrain from making absolute statements no matter how confident they are.
4. Far from ignoring or overlooking women, what the article actually says is that they believed there were a lot of Viking women in England because so many round brooches of the sort typically worn by women (and not men), have been found. Contrary to what Tumblr would like us to believe, grave goods and artifacts are important and valid sources of information regarding gender, and the large presence of Viking women in England was already hypothesized on the basis of that. So, now someone has tested that hypothesis on a particular population and come up with an actual number— 50%— of females in that population, which will undoubtedly be put to the test in the future and eventually we’ll have an idea how accurate that is. THIS IS GOOD SCIENCE AND IT’S NOT IGNORING OR OVERLOOKING WOMEN. Quite the opposite.
5. What IS unfair to women are popular media posts that make wild, unsubstantiated claims about what women did on the past that then get dragged all around social media and feed into tedious and ill-informed debates about gender roles and male bias in archaeology (which exists, I’m not denying that, but this is not an example of it).