Chicago Review Press
April 18, 2023
Buy the Hardcover
The Bones of Birka
Unraveling the mystery
of a female Viking warrior
When archaeologist Dr. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson discovers that the bones contained in the most significant Viking warrior grave ever opened are in fact female, she and her team upend centuries of historically accepted conclusions and ignite a furious debate around the reality of female Viking warriors and the role of gender in both ancient and modern times.
In The Bones of Birka, author C. M. Surrisi introduces young readers to the events that led up to this discovery and the impact it has had on scientists’ and historians’ views of gender roles in ancient societies and today. This is the inside account of the Birka warrior grave Bj 581 archaeological endeavor, including all of the dreams, setbacks, frustrations, excitement, politics, and personalities that went into this history-changing discovery.
The finding has raised crucial questions about research bias, academic dialogue, and gender identity.
- “Synergy: Birka Viking Warrior,” Annette Lamb, Teacher Librarians: Bridging Theory and Practice, 13 March 2023
- “New Young Adult Book Explores Archaeology, Gender, and Vikings,” Lydia Moran, Minnesota Women’s Press, 23 February 2023
“Surrisi’s book … packs a lot of information into just 156 pages, not counting a glossary of scientific and Viking words and discussion questions. The author gives readers just enough information about the Vikings and when and why they conquered so many countries, as well as women in Nordic sagas, scientific developments in interpreting information from bones, and the whole question of gender roles and what a woman warrior might be like during her lifetime. Bottom line: Why were so many scientists for so many years comfortable thinking the Birka bones belonged to a man? Why so much resistance to the idea the corpse could have been a warrior woman?” (Maryann Grossmann, Pioneer Press … read the full review)
“In 1871, a Swedish entomologist named Hjalmar Stolpe went to the island of Björkö in the northern Baltic Sea to search for bits of amber. Instead, he found what would become one of the greatest archeological sites, the Viking town of Birka that included a burial mound of what appeared to be a high ranking warrior, called Bj 581, dubbed the King of Birka. Given what was known about Viking society and the limits of scientific inquiry at the time, it was assumed that Bj 581 was male. However, with the development of DNA analysis and osteology (the study of bone), modern scientists, like Dr. Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, have been able to determine that Bj 581 was, in fact, biologically female. Surrisi begins with an engaging synopsis of many
related aspects including, but not limited to, an introduction to Viking society, archeological techniques developed by Stolpe himself, and the history of Birka. Much of the second half of the book discusses the many upset reactions from the archeological community to this discovery and the scientists’ efforts to defend their finding. Surrisi’s final chapters provide an in-depth, nuanced, and thought provoking discussion of gender roles and identity in Viking society as well as how bias can affect interpretation of artifacts, all of which are equally engrossing. The work is well documented with notes and sources as well as a useful glossary, discussion questions, and resources; final illustrations not seen. VERDICT: A great recommendation for history lovers, but also an important addition to society’s current discourse on gender expression, roles, and identity.” (School Library Journal, Karen T. Bilton)
“Mystery writer Surrisi covers this compelling story—including how the archaeological world reacted to the news and what gender (including transgender identity) and sex might have meant in the Viking world—in minute detail along with touching upon the history of the Vikings, how we’ve learned about them, and how our understanding has changed over time. … her scope and the thoroughness with which she tells the story give readers a very good feel for how scientific research works and how bias impacts investigation. A worthwhile account of a provocative find. ” (Kirkus Reviews … read the full review)
“… riveting historical detail paired with commentary surrounding preconceived notions and their effect on analysis makes for a thought-provoking telling. (Publishers Weekly)
“… An eye-opening and informative look at changing history” (Booklist)
Don’t miss any news!
Receive notifications by e‑mail when there’s book news to share.