King Gorm: Expert discusses discovery at burial ground

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The Vikings are known to have been some of history’s deadliest warriors. Their mark on Europe was from about 700 to 1100 AD. During this period many Vikings left their homelands in Scandinavia and travelled by longboat to nearby countries, like Britain and Ireland, slowly conquering much of the lands and pillaging goods.

Many, however, remained at home, governing and protecting their ancestral lands.

King Gorm the Old ruled over Denmark in the mid 10th century AD, the reported son of semi-legendary King Harthacnut.

While the exact date of his death is unknown, one theory suggests he died in the winter of 958/959 AD, at the ‘old’ age of around 50 years.

A great burial mound – the North Mound – was constructed for him in Jelling, the place from which he ruled.

Hoping to exhume him, archaeologists began working the site in the 19th century.

They came back empty handed, however.

The mystery was explored in the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary, ‘Secrets: Grave of the Vikings’.

Dr Anne Pedersen, a senior curator at the Danish National Museum, said: “When in 1861 they failed to find a burial they had a problem, because, where was King Gorm?”

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In 1941, a second attempt to find Gorm’s body took place, but failed yet again.

It wouldn’t be for nearly another four decades that researchers picked up the ancient king’s scent: in 1978, as the documentary’s narrator noted: “The story of King Gorm’s fate was turned on its head.”

Working at a small church next to the mound which was built around 1100 AD, archaeologists discovered the foundations of a much earlier structure, from the mid-10th century, and the grave of a man aged around 50.

Dr Pedersen explained: “There’s no doubt that we have two graves, one beneath the church and the other in the mound.”

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What really struck the archaeologists was the similarity between the two.

In the church tomb, small pieces of gold brocade from a fine costume and two silver mountings were found, in the same decorative style as the objects left after the plundering of the burial chamber in the North Mound.

Dr Pedersen continued: “The two graves are from roughly the same time.

“Both burials contain items of high quality, in the Jelling style, closely linked.

“So we must say that the two burials were made by the same family.”

The bones beneath the church were misarticulated, indicating that it had perhaps been moved from a burial somewhere else.

Researchers have suggested that Gorm’s remains could have been, at some point, removed from his royal mound and placed into the church.

But, for what reason, and whether that is truly the case, remains a mystery.

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