Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Bones of Birka: Unraveling the Mystery of a Female Viking Warrior by C. M. Surrisi

The Bones of Birka: Unraveling the Mystery of a Female Viking Warrior
by C. M. Surrisi
Chicago Review Press. 2023

In 1871, Hjalmar Stolpe, visited the island of Björkö, in Lake Mälaren, Sweden. A bug scientist, Stolpe intended to look for insects that were incased in ancient amber. You can imagine Stolpe’s surprise and delight, when he discovered the one thousand years old Viking town of Birka. There, Stolpe unearths several ancient graves, one of which he meticulously numbered Bj 581. 

Grave number Bj 581 revealed the body of what Stolpe interpreted as a high-ranking, male Viking warrior and his impressive weapons and other grave goods.” 

Then, over one hundred years later, Anna Kjellström, an osteologist, someone trained to study the human skeleton and other human & animal anatomy to understand the origin, development and evolution of creatures, made a startling discovery. While examining the bones from grave Bj 581, she would conclude the bone were not male, but…female! A female warrior in the times of the Vikings? 

Surrisi, author of middle-grade novels (The Unofficial Lola Bay Fan Club), takes readers on a fascinating journey explaining what led up to Stolpe’s discovery of Grave Bj 581. Surrisi explores Viking culture, and how, with newer scientific methods to examine historical sites, sparked the furious debate regarding the role of gender identity in ancient and modern times.

Chapter Ten, Face-to-face with a Birka Warrior, offers a balanced discussion on gender politics in archeology and how understanding a society or events of the past can become distorted when we examine them using long held beliefs about sex and gender. 

Included is a glossary, questions for discussion, resources, source notes, and index.

Only 148 pages, this well-researched nonfiction title may not be the type of book you read in one sitting. With so many details about Viking culture and the science of archeology, there is a lot to absorb. Those curious about ancient life, particularly that of Vikings will appreciate it. Text blocks throughout give more detailed explanations of what is mentioned in the text. Black & white photos enhance this fascinating story. 

Click here and visit the author's web page for more resources. 

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