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Abstract

How do we find out about people who lived hundreds and even thousands of years ago? Often we look at their graves. What were they buried with? What does this tell us about who they were?

An early medieval grave in Finland has been puzzling archaeologists for a while. The person was buried with a sword, but also jewelry and other objects thought of as feminine. So, for a long time we’ve thought that it could be the grave of a powerful woman – a woman with a sword! This is surprising because usually swords are associated with men. But it’s not so straightforward. We wanted to find out who the person really was. We looked carefully at what they were buried with, and worked out their biological sex using ancient DNA. The results made us think that maybe medieval society had different ideas about sex and gender than what we thought.

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