Suontaka’s Viking warrior was a man with a genetic defect

Correspondent in Berlin



The plumbers of Hattula, Finland, who discovered the fabulous bronze-handled sword during construction work in 1968, did not doubt that it was the burial of a Viking warrior. The thousand-year-old tomb, with the inscription ‘NMININ’, housed a skeleton in a poor state of conservation and a second sword without a hilt placed on the left side of the person, accessories that were directly associated with masculinity. The scientists who studied the site were limited to adding that one of the swords had been deposited at a later date, buried over the original tomb, but they did not doubt the gender of the warrior.

Some of the objects found, however, made archaeologists doubt later. The body was adorned with jewels and wore women’s clothing, so that experts, according to the mentality of the time, concluded that it must originally have been the grave of a couple from whom the male body had been stolen at some point in history. This theory was later refuted and the remains of the tomb of Suontaka Water Tower Hill became the flag of a line of historical interpretation that underlined the presence of powerful warriors in Viking society and irrefutable proof of the equality of the sexes in Nordic culture, a question on which a considerable amount of academic ink was spilled and that inspired novels, films and series that are now classics in their respective genres.

The fact is that the specialists of the Instituto Max Planck for the History of Human History, in Jena, who have just applied the most modern DNA analysis to those same remains, have concluded that it was the skeleton of a male suffering from Klinefelter syndrome, a genetic condition that occurs when a child is born with an extra copy of the X chromosome and is rarely diagnosed until adulthood.

As a result of this latest finding, historians from the University of Turku have reopened the debate on the gender of this individual in an article published by the ‘European Journal of Archeology’, in which they argue that the protagonist of this story, at the dawn From the Middle Ages, he was a pioneer who challenged traditional beliefs about gender roles and enjoyed advanced social acceptance.

“It seems that he was a highly respected member of his community, since they laid him on a soft feather blanket and along with furs and valuable objects,” says the archaeologist Ulla Moilanen, which considers that, despite the fact that the genetic code was badly damaged, it can be deduced from the results that the buried person had this rare genetic condition and a non-binary sexual identity. “Although the data set is small, it is likely that this individual had XXY chromosomes,” says the researcher. Elina Salmela, from the University of Helsinki.

The symptoms of Klinefelter syndrome vary from person to person and are often unnoticed. Although an individual with XXY chromosomes is usually anatomically male, the syndrome can also cause breast growth, decreased muscle mass, or infertility. Most of those affected produce little or no sperm. “If the characteristics of the Klinefelter syndrome were evident in this person, it is possible that it was not considered strictly feminine or masculine in the community of the High Middle Ages”, insists Moilanen, “the abundant collection of objects buried in the tomb, deposited on a soft feather blanket with fur and valuable belongings, it is proof that this individual was not only accepted, but also valued and respected.

In any case, the Finnish archaeologists involved in the study admit that the DNA results are based on a small tissue sample and that only a relatively small number of genetic sequences could be read, which means that it is not a completely complete result. conclusive and that has largely depended on modeling, which leads us to the question about what new possibilities of interpretation of this same tomb will appear in the future, when science has reached even more precise research methods and the dominant culture has recognized who knows how many more types of gender.

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