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New Medieval Books: The Bones of Birka

The Bones of Birka: Unraveling the Mystery of a Female Viking Warrior

By C.M. Surrisi

Chicago Review Press
ISBN: 978-1-64160-706-3

Aimed at younger readers, this book takes a look at the story of Bj 581, the grave in Birka where a female Viking warrior was buried. Besides offering information about Viking society, the book details what we know about this discovery through archaeology and osteology and even explains the academic debate over this topic.


Until the 1970s. Viking archaeology focused on tangible grave goods: weapons, textiles, coins, and jewelry. These items were generally viewed as reflecting sex. Weapons meant men, and jewelry meant women. Further, an ax in a male grave meant an implement of war, while an ax in a female grave was constructed as a tool. This is referred to as gendering artifacts. Once the grave goods suggested a sex, there was less focus on the people in the graves as individuals. 


Increasingly, prominent archaeologists have challenged this practice, and focus has been turned to the individuals. Today, topics such as “the Viking mind,” have become subjects of intense study. In the case of a few graves, like Bj 581, the scrutiny has been so intense it could be said these individuals have been awakened. They have started to become real people.  

Who is this book for?

While aimed at teenagers and school libraries, this book would be very useful to anyone interested in becoming a medievalist. Besides being out the history, this book is also about those who enter the field the history and what it is like to do research. It is also a great overview of the story of Bj 581.


The author:

Cynthia Surrisi is an American writer who already has penned several novels and another non-fiction book. Her specialty is writing for children and young adults. She learned about the re-discovery of Bj 581 in 2019, and then spent the next three years creating this book, including interviewing many of the people involved in the research. You can learn more about C.M. Surrisi through her website or follow her on Twitter @csurrisi or Instagram @csurrisi

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