Warriors and women: The Sex Ratio of Norse Migrants to Eastern England Up To 900 AD

Warriors and women: The Sex Ratio of Norse Migrants to Eastern England Up To 900 AD

By Shane McLeod

Early Medieval Europe, Vol. 19:3 (2011)

Abstract: Various types of evidence have been used in the search for Norse migrants to eastern England in the latter ninth century. Most of the data gives the impression that Norse females were far outnumbered by males. But using burials that are most certainly Norse and that have also been sexed osteologically provides very different results for the ratio of male to female Norse migrants. Indeed, it suggests that female migration may have been as significant as male, and that Norse women were in England from the earliest stages of the migration, including during the campaigning period from 865.

Introduction: Determining the ratio of Norse women to men in England during the period of early settlement up to 900 AD has always been extremely difficult. There is written evidence attesting the presence of women and children with the Norse army that attacked Wessex and western Mercia in the 890s, but no mention of women and children accompanying the army that campaigned from 865 to 878 and succeeded in conquering a Norse settlement zone in eastern England.

There is some archaeological evidence for early Norse female settlement, most obviously oval brooches, but this evidence is minimal. The more difficult to date evidence of place names, personal names, and DNA samples derived from the modern population suggests that Norse women did migrate to England at some stage, but probably in far fewer numbers than Norse men.

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