Egil’s Bones

Egil’s Bones

Byock, Jesse L.

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN,Vol. 272, January (1995)


An Icelandic saga tells of a Viking who had unusual, menacing features, including a skull that could resist blows from an ax. He probably suffered from an ailment called Paget’s disease.

Egil, the son of Skalla-Grim, is the most memorable Viking to appear in the Old Norse sagas. Born in Iceland in the early 10th century, he participated in Viking raids and adventures throughout Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the east Baltic lands, England, Saxony and northern Germany. Fierce, self-willed and violent, Egil Skalla-Grimsson was also a fine poet and a man with a sense of ethics. He epitomizes the Viking urge to travel into the unknown world seeking action and fortune. From Athelstan, king of the Anglo-Saxons, he receives valuable gifts and pledges of friendship, but from Erik Blood-Axe, the Viking ruler of Norway, he hears death threats. Combining courage and brawn with high intelligence, Egil survives war and treachery to live to an old age of 80. He dies among his kinsmen in Iceland in about 990, apparently from natural causes stemming from longevity.

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