850 years later, technology reveals the truth
Experts have been examining the 24 skeletal remains of a king who is known as Sweden’s national saint, Erik the Holy. His remains have been in a shrine in Uppsala Cathedral, which was opened specifically for this examination and to exhibit the king’s crown for the first time. The research gathered exhaustive information regarding King Erik’s life and death, revealing details of his genealogy, his diet, and his overall health before he was killed. Much of the legend of St. Erik seems to be true: He was a strong, well-nourished king who died a violent death in 1160 — and though the means of violence is still unclear, other things have been revealed. Researchers found bone damage that fully supports a brutal death, but as many as 11 different injuries could be connected with it. “They look like typical battle damage from this period, but it is rare that there are so many injuries that come from so many different directions,” says Anna Kjellström, associate professor at Osteoarchaeological Research at Stockholm University. Previously, King Erik was said to be 40 at the time of his death, but new data on bone mineral density estimate his death at age 35. And isotope values are consistent with those seen in people from Varnhem, suggesting the king may have actually survived the last couple years of his life in Uppland, an area which leaves very specific traits related to a regular diet of freshwater fish. However, it may reflect a life of piety which is consistent with the Christian doctrine calling for regular fasts where eating red meat is not permitted. More DNA samples may give clarity later this year, which could lead to more questions about what really happened during the last years of St. Erik’s life.