Female Viking Warrior Discovered Through DNA Testing

Hervor dying after the Battle of the Goths and Huns. A painting by Peter Nicolai Arbo, a Norwegian historical painter. Hervor dressed like a man, fought, killed and pillaged under her male surname Hjörvard.

Then the high-born lady saw them play the wounding game,

she resolved on a hard course and flung off her cloak;

she took a naked sword and fought for her kinsmen’s lives,

she was handy at fighting, wherever she aimed her blows.

The Greenlandic Poem of Atli (st. 49), The poetic Edda. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ancient DNA

I just love ancient DNA. Not only does it provide us a way to “view” long deceased individuals who we may be related to, one way or another (Y, mtDNA or autosomal), but it gives us a peephole into history as well.

Recently, a Viking warrior long presumed to be male has been positively identified as female through DNA analysis.

The paper titled A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics by Hedenstiera-Jonson et al provides details.

Oral history tells us of female Viking warriors, but mostly, those stories have been dismissed as mythology. But guess what – they weren’t.

A Viking warrior grave excavated in Birka, Sweden in the 1970s was originally identified as a female. That finding was initially dismissed in light of the extensive warrior burial artifacts. The skeleton was presumed to be a warrior male due to extensive funerary objects indicating a high ranking individual. Similar female warrior burials have been dismissed as well by saying that the warrior artifacts might have been heirlooms and don’t identify the burial as a warrior.

The warrior burial has now been indeed proven to be a female using DNA analysis.

From the paper’s authors:

This type of reasoning takes away the agency of the buried female. As long as the sex is male, the weaponry in the grave not only belong to the interred but also reflects his status as warrior, whereas a female sex has raised doubts, not only regarding her ascribed role but also in her association to the grave goods.

A great deal can be told about skeletal remains through their bones – and certain traits indicate males or females. In 2014, a scientist again suggested that the bones of this burial suggested the warrior had been a female, but that commentary was met with significant skepticism because of the warrior’s high rank based on the grave goods. DNA was determined to be the only way to resolve the question. Thank goodness this avenue was pursued and was productive.

From their abstract:

The objective of this study has been to confirm the sex and the affinity of an individual buried in a well-furnished warrior grave (Bj 581) in the Viking Age town of Birka, Sweden. Previously, based on the material and historical records, the male sex has been associated with the gender of the warrior and such was the case with Bj 581. An earlier osteological classification of the individual as female was considered controversial in a historical and archaeological context. A genomic confirmation of the biological sex of the individual was considered necessary to solve the issue.

From their results:

The genomic results revealed the lack of a Y-chromosome and thus a female biological sex, and the mtDNA analyses support a single-individual origin of sampled elements. The genetic affinity is close to present-day North Europeans, and within Sweden to the southern and south-central region. Nevertheless, the Sr values are not conclusive as to whether she was of local or nonlocal origin.

And their discussion:

The identification of a female Viking warrior provides a unique insight into the Viking society, social constructions, and exceptions to the norm in the Viking time-period. The results call for caution against generalizations regarding social orders in past societies.

The paper further states that over 3,000 warrior graves are known, with approximately 1,100 excavated. I have to wonder how many of those graves might be females too.

The Birka warrior was confirmed to be a female by the absence of a Y chromosome, but her mitochondrial DNA can tell us even more.

Mitochondrial DNA

Her mitochondrial DNA is haplogroup T2b.

Dr. David Pike is the administrator of the haplogroup T mtDNA project and the mtDNA T2 project at Family Tree DNA. He notified me of these results and offered the following information:

The list of mtDNA mutations in the supplement (namely those obtained from a canine tooth) are actually quite thorough (see page 15 of the supplement). They include all of the mutations that lead up to and including mtDNA haplogroup T2b. And then they go on to include two more that do not yet fit into any currently-named subgroup of T2b. These are T5774C and C16354T.

People who are curious about their own mtDNA can determine their status at position 16354 by a simple HVR1 test at FTDNA, but position 5774 requires a full mtDNA sequence test.

Within the T projects for which I’m an administrator, there are a few people with T5774C with none that have both of these two mutations. At least not yet… it would be nice to encourage more people to do full mtDNA testing.

If you have tested at a company other than Family Tree DNA that provides you with only a haplogroup, and it’s T, T2 or T2b, you might want to consider the mitochondrial test at Family Tree DNA to obtain a more definitive haplogroup and your actual mutations. Someone, someplace, may well match this Viking warrior woman.

Who is She Most Like?

The report indicates that the Birka female warrior showed autosomal genetic affinity to the following present-day populations:

  • British Island of England and Scotland,
  • North Atlantic Islands of Iceland and the Orkneys
  • Scandinavian countries of Denmark and Norway
  • Baltic counties of Lithuania and Latvia
  • Sweden from the south-central and southern region

The warrior was more like northern Europeans than southern Europeans, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Your Mitochondrial DNA

Mitochondrial DNA holds so many secrets and provides testers with information you can’t possible discover about your ancestors any other way. Males and females can both test. If you haven’t taken the full sequence mitochondrional DNA test, please consider doing so.

Want to know what you might discover? Please read the articles, Mitochondrial DNA – Your Mom’s Story and Jasmine’s Journey of Discovery.

You can click here to order the mtFull Sequence test or upgrade an existing test to the full sequence level.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

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Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

The Journey of Man – Redux 15 Years On By Spencer Wells

I can’t believe that is has been 15 years since Spencer Wells wrote The Journey of Man – but it has.

For those who aren’t familiar, this groundbreaking book and documentary were the first of their kind, serving as incredible inspiration as well as a boon for DNA testing.

If you haven’t seen the documentary, and even if you have, I’d strongly recommend watching on YouTube, here.  The YouTube version is half an hour longer than the National Geographic documentary because about one third of the original PBS version, now available on YouTube, got left on the cutting room floor when the Nat Geo documentary was produced.

I watched the original documentary several years ago and I enjoyed watching this version every bit as much.

For an upcoming Insitome podcast later in January, Spencer, along with Razib Khan, is going to revisit The Journey of Man.  So very much has been learned in the past 15 years, even though it does seem only like the blink of an eye.

Questions for Spencer?

After watching the original Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey video, do you have questions for Spencer?

If so, you’re in luck, because Spencer is asking for your input.

From Spencer:

For this Journey of Man Redux episode, we’d love to get your thoughts on what we should include – questions left unanswered in the film/book, peoples or places we should look at in greater detail, or simply your favorite scenes.

Spencer will be following along!

This is an extremely rare opportunity to have your questions addressed by the founder of the Genographic Project.  I guarantee you, I have a list of questions!

A New Neanderthal

The Insitome podcasts are available at the iTunes store, here. Depending on your computer, you may only need to click on the blue “Podcast website” link on the bottom left.

If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to install iTunes on your system.  Click on “View in iTunes,” following the prompts to install iTunes on your PC.  Then, after iTunes is installed, click on the “Podcast website” link.

As luck would have it, today, Spencer is introducing the podcast, “Neander-Me, Part 1” focused on “what it means to be 2% Neanderthal that includes an interview with John Hawks via Skype from the Rising Star excavation in South Africa last fall.”

Part 2 of this series is scheduled to follow next week.

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

Thank YOU for Making DNAeXplained the #1 Genealogy Blog

Yesterday morning, I received an unexpected gift.

Let me tell you one of my guilty pleasure secrets.

I read Randy Seaver’s Genea-Musings on my phone laying in bed every morning.  It’s my way of getting my day started off on the right foot.

When I received the e-mail saying that yesterday’s article included “Selected Genealogy Website Traffic Rankings” as of December 29th from Alexa.com, an international website traffic monitoring site, I was excited to see who was on the list and what Randy had to say.

I always look forward to discovering new resources and what they might produce for my genealogy. I was hoping to find a new gem hidden here. I did, but not exactly what I was expecting!

Randy divided his results into two categories, companies including websites and then blogs. Blogs offer a different type of content than websites.

I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the top 5 in the company/website category.

I was, however, shocked to see the #1 genealogy blog.

That’s not just GENETIC genealogy blogs, but ALL genealogy blogs.

If you would have told me back in July 2012 when I first started DNAeXplained that New Years just 5 years and a few months later would be celebrated by not only ANY genetic genealogy blog being #1, but DNAeXplained being that #1 blog, well, I would have wondered what you were smoking.

Of course, being curious, I checked to see where DNAeXplained ranks with the websites.

It fell just after Steve Morse’s stevemorse.org and just before…are you sitting down…Rootsweb.com.  I have to tell you, I feel terrible that Rootsweb isn’t getting more hits. Rootsweb is a wonderful genealogical resource, often neglected today in favor of social media.

That puts DNAeXplained at about number 58, which isn’t bad at all considering that I’m not selling any products nor have any database lookup functions like Steve Morse’s free searches.

To say I’m thrilled is an understatement.

Genetic Genealogy Leads the Pack

The not-so-subtle message here is that genetic genealogy is no longer the undervalued step-child of genealogy.  My blog and other resources that help people understand and utilize the messages carried from our ancestors and found in our DNA today are clearly some of the most popular genealogy sites on the internet.

First and foremost, a huge, and I do mean HUGE thank you to all of my readers who visit DNAeXplained, subscribe (the “follow” box in upper right hand corner of the main page) and search for answers to your questions.

Needless to say, this blog wouldn’t be #1 without all of YOU. I’m extremely humbled by your confidence and support. It’s sometimes awfully quiet sitting alone at my keyboard, but these numbers make your presence felt in the most wonderful way. Thank you.

I try to find innovative ways to make this blog super-useful.

In addition to the 52 Ancestors series, I’ve also begun both a Concepts and Glossary series in an effort to make finding answers easier and more understandable.  Take a look and remember, I’m always open to suggestions.  In fact, many articles originate with your questions and comments.

If you’re not already aware, this blog is fully keyword searchable in the upper right hand corner search box.  I see so many questions on social media that I’ve already answered in an article.

Speaking of questions, I want to be sure that you know that it’s perfectly fine to share the link to any blog article I’ve written on Facebook or anyplace else.  Please DO post links to articles!  Copying and pasting the actual content is another matter and violates copyright, but posting the link is quick and easy. You can even post to your own pages by using the Facebook and Twitter links at the bottom of each article.

If you’re interested in copyright law, dos and don’ts, please read Judy Russell’s articles on this topic.  You’ll notice that Judy’s blog, The Legal Genealogist, also placed in the top 5. Judy’s blog is pure enjoyment and every Sunday is DNA day. Congratulations Judy!

Another genetic genealogy blog in the top 5 is Blaine Bettinger’s The Genetic Genealogist that celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary in 2017.  Congratulations on both fronts, Blaine.

Speaking of other bloggers, I want to congratulate each and every one, including Randy himself.  Lots of effort is invested in blog articles that are shared freely with all.

Please take this opportunity to read Randy’s article (subscribe to Genea-Musings if you haven’t already) and find a couple sites or blogs on his list that you’re not already familiar with. Get a mug of something hot (here in the VERY FRIGID USA), put your feet up by a nice warm fire and enjoy!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research

2018 Resolution – Unveiling Hidden Evidence

I spent New Year’s Eve, doing what I’ve done for years on New Year’s Eve – celebrating by researching. In fact, it was at the stroke of midnight in 2005 that I ordered kit number 50,000 from Family Tree DNA.  Yes, I’m just that geeky and yes, I had to purchase several kits in a row to get number 50,000.

That kit went on to help immensely, as I used it to test an elderly cousin of my great-grandmother’s generation who took both the Y DNA test, and then, eventually, autosomal.

This year I made a wonderful discovery to mark the new year.  But first, let’s see how I did with last year’s resolution.

Last Year’s Resolution

Last year, I made 1 resolution. Just one – to complete another year’s worth of 52 Ancestor stories.

Now, that didn’t mean I had to do 52 in total.  It meant I had to be committed to this project throughout the year.  You know, unlike cleaning out that closet…or losing weight…or exercising more. Commitments that are abandoned almost as soon as they are made.

So, how did I do?

I published 37 stories.  I shudder to think how many words or even pages that was.  I’m ashamed to say that I plucked much of the “low hanging fruit” early on, so these were tough ancestors for an entire variety of reasons.

That’s not one article each week, but at least I’m making steady progress. And I must say that I couldn’t do it without a raft of helpers – all of whom I’m exceedingly grateful to.  Friends, professionals, cousins, DNA testers, blog subscribers and commenters – an unbelievable array of very kind souls who are willing to give of their time and share their results. Thank you each and every one!

Now, I’m thrilled to tell you that Amy Johnson Crow has revitalized the 52 Ancestor’s project.  It’s free and you can sign up here.  There’s no obligation, but Amy provides suggestions and a “gathering place” of sorts. Think of her as your genealogy cheerleader or coach. It’s so much easier with friends and teammates! I miss reading other people’s stories, but I won’t have to miss that much longer!

Randy Seaver (of Genea-Musings) and I will have company once again.  He’s the only other person that I’m aware of that has continued the 52 Ancestors project – and he has put me way to shame.  I do believe he published number 286 this week.  I keep hoping that some of his ancestors and some of mine are the same so I can piggyback on Randy’s research! I need an index! Randy, are you listening?

You might wonder why I enjoy this self-imposed deadline ancestor-writing so much.

It’s really quite simple.  It’s an incredible way to organize and sort through all of your accumulated research “stuff.”  I cherish the end product – documenting my ancestors lives with dates, compassion and history.  BUT, I absolutely hate parts of the research process – and the deadline (of sorts) gets me through those knotholes.

I absolutely love the DNA, and I really, REALLY like the feeling of breaking through brick walls.  It’s like I’m vindicating my ancestors and saving them from the eternal cutting room floor. DNA is an incredible tool to do just that and there are very few ancestors that I can’t learn something from their DNA, one way or another – Y, mtDNA,  autosomal and sometimes, all three.  And yes, DNA is in every one of my articles, one way or another. I want everyone to learn how to utilize DNA in the stories of their ancestor’s lives.  In many cases the DNA of theirs that we (and our cousins) carry is the only tangible thing left of them. We are wakling historical museums of our ancestral lines!

How Did You Do?

Not to bring up an awkward subject, but if you recall, I asked you if you had any genealogy resolutions for 2017?  How did you do?

Congratulations if you succeeded or made progress.

It’s OK if you didn’t quite make it. Don’t sweat last year.  It’s over and 2018 is a brand spanking new year.

New Year Equals New Opportunities

2018 is stacking up to be a wonderful year. There are already new matches arriving daily due to the Black Friday sales and that’s only going to get better in the next month or two.  Of course, that’s something wonderful to look forward to in the dead of winter.  We’ll just call this my own personal form of hibernating. Could I really get away with not leaving my house for an entire month? Hmmm….

I want to give you three ideas for having some quick wins that will help you feel really great about your genealogy this year.

Idea 1 – Finding Hidden Mitochondrial DNA

This happened to me just last night and distracted me so badly that I actually was late to wish everyone a Happy New Year.  Yes, seriously.  One of my friends told me this is the best excuse ever!

I was working on making a combined tree for the descendants of an ancestor who have tested and I suddenly noticed that one of the female autosomal matches descended from the female of the ancestral couple through all females – which means my match carries my ancestor’s mitochondrial DNA!

Woohooooooo – it’s a wonderful day.

Better yet, my match tested at Family Tree DNA AND had already taken the mitochondrial DNA test.

Within about 60 seconds of noticing her pattern of descent, I had the haplogroup of our common ancestor. That’s the BEST New Year’s gift EVER.  I couldn’t sleep last night.

So, know what I did instead of sleeping? I bet you can guess!

Yes indeed, I started searching through my matches at Family Tree DNA for other people descended from female ancestors whose mtDNA I don’t have!

So, my first challenge to you is to do the same.

Utilizing Family Finder, enter the surname you’re searching for into the search box in the upper right hand corner of your matches page.

That search will produce individuals who have that surname included in their list of ancestral surnames or who carry that surname themselves.

Your tree feeds the ancestral surname list with all of the surnames in your tree.  I understand this will be changing in the future to reflect only your direct line ancestral surnames.

Some people include locations with their surnames – so you may recognize your line that way. Click on your match’s surname list (at far right) to show their entire list of surnames in a popup box. Some lists are very long.  I selected the example below because it’s short.

Your common surnames are bolded and float to the top.  The name you are searching for will be blue, so it’s easy to see, especially in long lists of surnames. 

About half of my matches at Family Tree DNA have trees.  Click on the pedigree icon and then search for your surname of interest in your match’s tree.

Hey, there’s our common ancestral couple – William George Estes and Ollie Bolton!!!

Idea 2 – Finding Hidden Y DNA

Now that I’ve shown you how to find hidden mitochondrial DNA, finding hidden Y DNA is easy.  Right?

You know what to do.

I this case, you’ll be looking for a male candidate who carries the surname of the line you are seeking, which is very easy to spot on the match list.

Now, word of warning.

As bizarre as this sounds, not all men who carry that surname and match autosomally are from the same genetic surname line.

As I was working with building a community tree for my matches last night, I was excited to see that one of my cousins (whose kit I manage) matches a man with the Herrell surname.

I quickly clicked on the match’s tree to see which Herrell male the match descends from, only to discover that he didn’t descend from my Herrell line.

Whoa – you’re saying – hold on, because maybe my line is misidentified.  And I’d agree with you – except in this case, I have the Y DNA signature of both lines – because at one time I thought they were one and the same. You can view the Herrell Y DNA project here.  My family line is Harrold Line 7.

Sure enough, through the Family Finder match, I checked my Harrell match’s profile and his haplogroup is NOT the same as my Herrell haplogroup (I-P37.)

I could have easily been led astray by the same surname. I really don’t need to know any more about his Y DNA at this point, because the completely different haplogroup is enough to rule out a common paternal line.

Don’t let yourself get so excited that you forget to be a skeptical genealogist😊

My second challenge to you is to hunt for hidden Y DNA.

You can  increase your chances of finding your particular lineage by visiting the relevant Y DNA projects for your surname.

Click on Projects, then “Join a project,” then search for the DNA project that you’re interested in viewing and click on that link.

Within the project, look for oldest ancestors that are your ancestors, or potentially from a common location.  It’s someplace to start.

You can read more about how to construct a DNA pedigree chart in the article, “The DNA Pedigree Chart – Mining for Ancestors.”

Idea 3 – Pick A Puzzle Piece

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with the magnitude and size of the genealogy puzzle we’d like to solve. Then, we don’t solve anything.

This is exactly WHY I like the 52 Ancestor stories.  They make me focus on JUST ONE ancestor at a time.

So, for 2018, pick one genealogy puzzle you’d really like to solve. One person or one thing.  Not an entire line.

Write down your goal.

“I’d like to figure out whether John Doe was the son of William Doe or his son, Alexander Doe.”

Now admittedly, this is a tough one, because right off the bat, Y DNA isn’t going to help you unless you’re incredibly lucky and there is a mutation between Alexander Doe and his father, William.  If indeed that was the case, and you can prove it by the DNA of two of Alexander’s sons who carry the mutation, compared to the DNA of one of William’s other sons who does not, then you may be cooking with gas, presuming you can find a male Doe descended from John to test as well.

This is the type of thought process you’ll need to step through when considering all of the various options for how to prove, or disprove, a particular theory.

Make a list of the different kinds of evidence, both paper trail and genetic, that you could use to shed light on the problem. Your answer may not come from one piece of evidence alone, but a combination of several.

Evidence Available/Source Result
William’s will No, burned courthouse Verified
Alexander’s will No, burned courthouse Verified
Deeds with William as conveyor No, burned courthouse Verified
Family Bible Nope, no Bible
Deeds with Alexander as conveyor, naming John Possible, some deed books escaped fire Check through county, Family search does not list
Deeds with John as conveyor Yes, check to see if they indicate the source of John’s land John is listed in index, need to obtain original deeds from county
Y DNA of John’s line Yes, has been tested Matches DNA of William’s line as proven through William’s two brothers
Y DNA of Alexander Not tested (to the best of my knowledge), find descendant to see if they will test Search vendor DNA testing sites for male with this surname to see if they have/will Y DNA test
Closeness (in total cM and longest segment) of individuals autosomal matching through any of William’s descendants Mine both Ancestry and FTDNA for surname and ancestor matches This step may produce compelling or suggestive evidence, and it may not.  Make a McGuire chart of results.
Does John match any relatives of the wife of Alexander Doe? Search FTDNA and Ancestry for matches.  Triangulate to determine if match is valid and through that line. This is one of the best approaches to solve this type of problem when paper records aren’t available. Fingers crossed that Alexander and his wife and not related.

You can add pieces of evidence to your list as you think of them.

Making a list gives you something to work towards.

Your Turn!

Select one thing that you’d like to accomplish and either set about to do it, like mining for mitochondrial or Y DNA evidence, or put together a plan to gather evidence, both traditional and genetic.

In the comments, share what it is you’ll be searching for or working on.  You just never know if another subscriber may hold the answer you seek.

I can’t wait to hear what you’ll be doing this year!

Have a wonderful and productive New Year searching for those hidden ancestors!

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Disclosure

I receive a small contribution when you click on some of the links to vendors in my articles. This does NOT increase the price you pay but helps me to keep the lights on and this informational blog free for everyone. Please click on the links in the articles or to the vendors below if you are purchasing products or DNA testing.

Thank you so much.

DNA Purchases and Free Transfers

Genealogy Services

Genealogy Research