The Finnish Beast collection has remained an Ola Gorie best seller for more than four decades. For many years, our description of the collection included the sentence: ‘It recalls the golden age of the north men’s culture, and their powerful and mysterious mythology.’
But scientific research released in August this year revealed that the Viking buried in the grave is a little more mysterious than we imagined when we blithely talked about ‘north men’. Archaeologists sampled DNA from the skeleton, and found that the once-imposing figure did not have the standard male XY chromosomes, but an additional X as well. XXY chromosomes are a marker of Klinefelter syndrome, meaning the individual was neither conventionally male, nor conventionally female, but somewhere inbetween in appearance and sexual characteristics.
These findings challenge the stereotypical view of Viking culture as monolithically macho. The Suontaka warrior was buried in a high status grave, clutching an impressive sword – a fearsome fighting weapon. But they were dressed in women’s clothing, fastened with three decorated brooches. In life their gender identity would have been neither traditionally female nor male, but – as we might say now – intersex.