King Olaf’s men? Contextualising Viking burials at S:t Olofsholm, Gotland, Sweden

Jonny Geber* (Lead Author), Catriona Pickard (Lead Author), Sarah Macaud, Sabine Sten, Dan Carlsson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The discovery of burials at S:t Olofsholm, a site associated with the Saint Olaf cult on Gotland in Sweden, has enabled a bioarchaeological contextualisation of medieval legends and sagas in conjunction with the archaeological record. This study seeks to illuminate who were buried at S:t Olofsholm, through a biocultural lens, and whether these burials can be linked to folklore and sagas associated with the site. Five burials of possibly six individuals (cal. AD 980–1270), were assessed macroscopically and through stable isotope analysis (δ13C, δ15N, δ34S, 87Sr/86Sr, δ18O) of incremental dentine, and bulk enamel and bone samples. Sagas and legends associated with S:t Olofsholm mention episodes of conflict and contact involving King Olaf Haraldsson of Norway (later canonised as Saint Olaf), Gutes and Icelanders, and travels between Norway and Kyiv Rus. Two (or three) burials show signs of violent deaths, including evidence of sharp force trauma and burning. Isotope analyses indicate local and non-local signals, with possible links to southern Scandinavia, Britain, Iceland, the Baltics and Kyiv Rus. In general, the evidence neither challenges nor confirms the legends and sagas associated with S:t Olofsholm. Instead, the findings illustrate the site’s function as an early Christian place of worship within a wider Viking world that was characterised by travel and contact across the Baltic Sea, Scandinavia and beyond. The burials at S:t Olofsholm are likely to be non-normative as indicated by their place of interment and the violent cause of death of most individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)802-815
JournalInternational Journal of Osteoarchaeology
Issue number5
Early online date17 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • bioarchaeology
  • Guta Saga
  • Heimskringla
  • isotope analysis
  • Scandinavia


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