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Why is this 2011 article on Viking Women now getting mainstream media attention?

Three years ago, Shane McLeod’s article on ‘Warriors and women: the sex ratio of Norse migrants to eastern England up to 900 AD’ was published in the journal Early Medieval Europe. This week, the details of this article are now making headlines on media all across the world.

McLeod, who is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Stirling, examined archaeological evidence about Norse migrants to eastern England in the 9th century. Of the 14 burials of Norse individuals that have been found from this period, McLeod notes that 7 were of men, 6 were women, while the one remaining individual’s sex could not be determined. While previous research on the Norse had concluded the Norse who came to England were overwhelmingly male, McLeod concludes that we “should caution against assuming that the great majority of Norse migrants were male, despite the other forms of evidence suggesting the contrary.”

When the article was released back in 2011, it was reported on by USA Today in an article entitled Invasion of the Viking women unearthed.  We also noted the article on our Medieval News Blog at that time. Since then the new of this research hasn’t received too much attention, until earlier this week when various news sites, blogs and social media started reporting on it. Here are some of the reports:

On Twitter, you can find many people talking about these reports, including some who are referencing the original USA Today report:

While some of these stories include a link to the USA Today article, none of them indicate that the original research dates back to 2011. In some cases they state that this is coming from “recent” research. Furthermore, they all identify Shane McLeod as being from the University of Western Australia, which was true when he wrote the article, but he finished his PhD there in 2011 and has moved on to other institutions.

It seems likely that all the media reports currently circulating are simply re-reporting the news they are seeing on other blogs, and are not actually looking at the McLeod’s original article – which would be difficult for one to access as it is available only behind a paywall at the Wiley Online Library. Some of the news reports have made reference to the Vikings television show, or to the news from Marvel comics that the character of Thor will soon be female, but they offer no new information that is not available in the USA Today report.

More troubling is the fact that they report the story as if these Norse women were actually Viking warriors who took part in the raids and attacks throughout England. McLeod’s research in no way suggests this. Few people have so far pointed this out online – one exception being the website Stuffed You Missed in History Class, which offers this excellent post on what is being reported and what is the original academic article says.

One suspects that a few more mainstream news outlets will be sending out similar reports throughout this week. Moreover, the social media reaction to these articles has so far been overwhelmingly positive, but also confirms that many people are being misled into thinking that women were making up half the number of Viking warriors.

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