Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female insists an article at tor.com. It’s complete bullshit.
What you find when you read the linked article is an obvious, though as it turns out a superficial problem. The linked research doesn’t say what the article claims. What it establishes is that a hair less than half of Viking migrants were female, which is no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention. The leap from that to “half the warriors were female” is unjustified and quite large.
There’s a deeper problem the article is trying to ignore or gaslight out of existence: reality is, at least where pre-gunpowder weapons are involved, viciously sexist.
It happens that I know a whole lot from direct experience about fighting and training with contact weapons – knives, swords, and polearms in particular. I do this for fun, and I do it in training environments that include women among the fighters.
I also know a good deal about Viking archeology – and my wife, an expert on Viking and late Iron Age costume who corresponds on equal terms with specialist historians, may know more than I do. (Persons new to the blog might wish to read my review of William Short’s Viking Weapons and Combat.) We’ve both read saga literature. We both have more than a passing acquaintance with the archeological and other evidence from other cultures historically reported to field women in combat, such as the Scythians, and have discussed it in depth.
And I’m calling bullshit. Males have, on average, about a 150% advantage in upper-body strength over females. It takes an exceptionally strong woman to match the ability of even the average man to move a contact weapon with power and speed and precise control. At equivalent levels of training, with the weight of real weapons rather than boffers, that strength advantage will almost always tell.
Supporting this, there is only very scant archeological evidence for female warriors (burials with weapons). There is almost no such evidence from Viking cultures, and what little we have is disputed; the Scythians and earlier Germanics from the Migration period have substantially more burials that might have been warrior women. Tellingly, they are almost always archers.
I’m excluding personal daggers for self-defense here and speaking of the battlefield contact weapons that go with the shieldmaidens of myth and legend. I also acknowledge that a very few exceptionally able women can fight on equal terms with men. My circle of friends contains several such exceptional women; alas, this tells us nothing about woman as a class but much about how I select my friends.
But it is a very few. And if a pre-industrial culture has chosen to train more than a tiny fraction of its women as shieldmaidens, it would have lost out to a culture that protected and used their reproductive capacity to birth more male warriors. Brynhilde may be a sexy idea, but she’s a bioenergetic gamble that is near certain to be a net waste.
Firearms changes all this, of course – some of the physiological differences that make them inferior with contact weapons are actual advantages at shooting (again I speak from experience, as I teach women to shoot). So much so that anyone who wants to suppress personal firearams is objectively anti-female and automatically oppressive of women.