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Mass grave mystery in Oslo

In the spring of 2019, the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) began to monitor work relating to the construction of a new tram line in the heart of the medieval old town (Gamlebyen).

Mass grave mystery in Oslo
Solfrid Granum and Tone Bergland excavationg one of the three individuals found in the same grave
[Credit: Sara Langvik Berge, NIKU]
Last week, archaeologists made a startling discovery close to the medieval ruin of St. Hallvard’s Cathedral, a grave containing three individuals buried on top of each other.

It became apparent that the skeletons were lying in an unusual position and that the bodies had not been afforded the due respect normally seen in Christian burial.

Mass grave mystery in Oslo
Archaeologist Tone Bergland working on the last individual in the grave
[Credit: Sara Langvik Berge, NIKU]
The arms of two of the individuals were raised over their heads suggesting that the bodies had been thrown into the grave, while the arms of the third skeleton lay across the body pointing in the same direction as if it had been rolled into the grave, says the excavation project manager Michael Derrick.

The individuals also show signs of violence. Cuts to the head and neck and other parts of the body caused by sharp weapons show that the individuals met a grisly end.

Mass grave mystery in Oslo
Two of the individuals from the grave. Notice the position of the arms
[Credit: Thomas Wrigglesworth, NIKU]
Derrick believes the bodies may be linked to the Norwegian civil war which took place between 1130 and 1240.

The saga of Håkon Håkonsson mentions a battle in 1240 between the royalist forces of Håkon Håkonsson and the usurper Duke Skule Bårdsson.

This battle occurred within the churchyard of St. Hallvard’s Cathedral –close to where the skeletons were found.

It is hoped that further analysis of the skeletons can reveal more about the life and death of these individuals and provide dating to support the accounts in the Sagas.

Source: Norsk Institutt for Kulturminneforskning [July 04, 2020]


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