Mysterious Viking Gerdrup Grave - burial place of sorceress Katla and her son strangely mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga? - Old pages (2023)

Ellen Lloyd - -The discovery of the Gerdrup tomb surprised scientists because it challenged our knowledge of Viking burials. Who were the people buried in the double grave?

The Gerdrup Tomb was previously interpreted as a "master and slave burial", but studies of the ancient skeletons indicate that this theory is flawed. To understand why the Gerdrup tomb is of great historical and archaeological importance, one must understand that the Vikings had both law and government without a written law.

Mysterious Viking Gerdrup Grave - burial place of sorceress Katla and her son strangely mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga? - Old pages (1)

A typical thingstead, where people met and made decisions. This one is in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. Picture credits: Clemensfranz - CC BY-SA 3.0

Vikings are often portrayed as lawless individuals who did what they wanted, whether it was wrong or not. It is true that there were troublemakers among the Vikings.Eric the Redis a good example of a controversial Viking who was an outlaw. He was very violent and his temper was beyond his control. This resulted in him being banned from his country twice! Even his compatriots got tired of him because he just didn't know where to draw the line.

We must remember that not allviking were like Eric the Red. What is not particularly well known is that while there was no written law and onlywrite runesexisted then, the ancient Viking society had a sophisticated system of government and law.

Viking law and order was based on the so-called system of things. A Thing was the governing assembly made up of the free people of the community. Each community had its own independent thing where all free Vikings could come together to make laws, settle disputes, and make decisions. The meeting place was called Thingstatt.

TheDing-Systemwas not limited to men. Women and the handicapped were allowed to attend the meetings.

In Nordic society, there were severe penalties for breaking the law. This brings us to the long-standing mystery of the Viking Gerdrup Grave (Gerdrupgraven) near Roskilde in Denmark.

This tomb was found in 1981 and scientists have not been able to determine why the individuals were buried here. There are two skeletons in the Gerdrup grave. One belongs to a man who was between 35 and 40 years old at the time of his death. He is lying on his back with his ankles crossed. This indicates that he was tied at his feet. The head is unnaturally turned down towards the left shoulder and the neck is probably broken.

Mysterious Viking Gerdrup Grave - burial place of sorceress Katla and her son strangely mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga? - Old pages (2)

Who is buried in the Gerdrup grave? Photo credit: Roskilde Museum

Beside him lie the remains of a woman, also lying on her back. Who were the man and the woman? Why were they buried together? Were they slaves, warriors, or just ordinary members of Viking society?

“As soon as the tomb was discovered, it aroused great interest. It was a grave that deviated from the classical perception of Viking Age graves, particularly in the woman's mix of gender-specific grave goods: a needle box and spearhead.

This "anomaly" was compounded by the presence of the man who appeared to have been killed in the tomb, as well as the large stones placed on the woman's body. Based on these indicators, the grave excavator, Tom
Christensen tentatively suggested that the tomb might have been the resting place of a sorceress or valkyrie: a woman buried with a special status symbol - the spear - and a special burial object - the slain man - and it was clearly intended that it should what was meant was the deceased woman was to remain in the tomb, so the stones were placed there.

The supposedly remote location of the tomb is also mentioned and reference is made to medieval written sources that describe how sorceresses were stoned to death and/or buried on the beach.1

The Gerdrup Tomb was the first discovery to prove that Viking women were buried together with a weapon - in this case a lance. We've seen that beforeViking children were buried with extremely sharp knives. The purpose of placing these artifacts in the tombs is not entirely clear, but one possibility is that the knives are to aid the little ones in their afterlife. Perhaps the Vikings buried their children with knives, thinking it was an essential tool to carry when enteringWalhalla.

The Gerdrup Tomb offers evidence that Vikings placed weapons in tombs, whether the deceased was a woman, man or child.

Unraveling the mystery surrounding the Gerdrup tomb has been difficult, but DNA studies have shed some light on this enigmatic 1,000-year-old Viking tomb.

DNA testing has shown that the couple are indeed mother and son and that the man was not a sacrificial slave as previously thought.”2

According to Ole Kastholm, “It's an incredibly exciting and surprising result to have here. We need to think carefully about what that means.”3

The revelation means that the history of the Gerdrup Tomb must be rewritten and a new mystery solved.

Kastholm said: "We need to see if other graves and other Viking Age source material might reveal some patterns that might help us solve this case."3

Kastholm thinks it's possible we can find clues, or maybe even the solution, in the Icelandic Sagas, a series of tales written between the 12th and 15th centuries that cover Viking history.

It is evident that the man was executed, hanged and bound before being placed in the tomb. Meanwhile, the woman was being weighed down by large stones.

Who was the woman buried in the Gerdrup grave? Credit:Adobe Stock - Warpedgalerie

One theory has it that the woman's lance in the tomb is actually a sorceress' staff. Was the woman a Völva? TheValve was a very powerful shaman and seer in Norse mythology.

She had a significant place in ancient Viking society. Her powers were considered so strong that not onlyvikingfeared her prophecies, but evenOdin, the greatest of all Norse gods, consulted her to learn what the future held for the gods. This powerful shaman is often mentioned inNorse mythology.

A Völva has long been considered a purely mythological figure, but archaeological evidence clearly shows thisNorse female shamans existed.

Mysterious Viking Gerdrup Grave - burial place of sorceress Katla and her son strangely mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga? - Old pages (4)

Theburied Norse seer from Fyrkat– Reconstruction drawing by Thomas Hjejle Bredsdorff. Photo credit: National Museum of Denmark

A few years ago a very mysterious grave was discovered in Denmark. Scientists found a woman dressed in fine blue and red clothing in the tomb decorated with gold thread. Her attire showed that she was very important and most likely had royal status.

Scientists discovered an intriguing metal staff and seeds of the poisonous henbane plant in her grave. This was an indication that the female was in fact a Völva.

Mysterious Viking Gerdrup Grave - burial place of sorceress Katla and her son strangely mentioned in Eyrbyggja saga? - Old pages (5)

If the woman and her son weren't slaves, could they have been people mentioned in Icelandic sagas? Photo credit: Roskilde Museum

Returning to the Gerdrup grave, we must conclude that the buried Viking woman was not a person valued by society. She had been stoned to death, but why?

The Eyrbyggja saga tells the story of the sorceress Katla and her son Odd who were persecuted and executed. Odd was hanged and Katla stoned to death.

Could the people buried in the Gerdrup tomb be Katla and her son? "Another idea, departing from the sorceress and slave theme, is proposed by David Wilson. He proposes that the man raped the woman and was executed for this crime and buried along with his victim."1

It's a very interesting archaeological discovery. Perhaps more DNA studies can give us more valuable information in the near future. For the time being, the skeletons of Gerdrup's grave can be viewed at Roskilde Museum.

Written byEllen Lloyd –

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Expand for references

  1. Ole Kastholm, Reconstructing the Gerdrup Grave –: The story of an unusual Viking Age double burial in context and in the light of new analyses,
    Danish Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 10,
  2. DNA testing sheds light on ancient Viking murder mystery - Copenhagen Post
  3. Anders Malling Beck and Frida Kruse Lind - Mystery of 1000-year-old skeletons in famous Viking grave solved,

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