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The death of a medieval Danish warrior: A case of bone trauma interpretation

Skeleton Greenland

The death of a medieval Danish warrior: A case of bone trauma interpretation

By Eva Forsom, Lene Warner Thorup Boel, Bo Jaque, and Lene Mollerup

Scandinavian Journal of Forensic Science, Volume 23, Number 1, 2017

Skeleton Greenland

Introduction: The study of trauma in skeletal remains is important to bioarchaeology as it can provide insight into the patterns of interpersonal violence and warfare in the past, an important aspect of human society. Studies of weapon related trauma from medieval Europe have mostly focused on mass graves or burial sites containing many individuals, but smaller assemblages of one or just a few individuals with interesting cases of perimortem trauma have also been published.

All of these contribute with valuable information on the mechanisms of warfare in pre-modern populations. With an in-depth knowledge of traumatological principles and an advanced understanding of biomechanics of injury the forensic pathologist contributes to relevant interpretation of pathoanatomy of skeletons in collaboration with archaeological specialists.

The abbey at Øm is located in a rural area in the central part of the Danish Jutland peninsula and was founded in 1172 by Cistercian monks from Vitskøl Abbey in northern Jutland. The monks named the monastery Cara Insula, which means “the beloved isle” and the early years of the abbey are described in the preserved handwritten Chronicle of Øm, Exordium Monasterii Carae Insulae, which recounts the events of the years from 1207 to 1267. The abbey was in use until the 16th century.


The ruins at Øm have been thoroughly excavated in the 20th century. Altogether, 668 skeletons from a total of 921 graves have been excavated and recorded throughout the years, although not all of them were stored afterwards due to poor preservation. Osteological analysis was originally conducted by K. Isager in the 1930s. This paper focuses on a single case of a male individual whose grave was discovered in 1934. We present a detailed description of the lesions identified on the skeleton and propose a manner of violent death.

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