Stockholm university

Alison Klevnäs

About me

Alison Klevnäs has been affiliated with the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University since 2012, first as a postdoctoral researcher, then as a fixed-term senior lecturer and now as a researcher. She gained her 'Docentur' (Habilitation) in 2021.

Her undergraduate degree is in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge and she has an MA in Viking and Early Medieval Studies from Uppsala University. She completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2010, investigating Merovingian-period grave disturbance in northern and western Europe, with the main case study in Anglo-Saxon England. This was published as a monograph in 2013.

At Stockholm University she turned to Viking Age burials, publishing evidence of re-engagements with graves at the famous boat-grave cemetery at Vendel in Uppland and across Scandinavia. She has also continued research on early medieval mortuary customs, showing that communities across Europe adopted a practice of re-entering graves and removing selected objects from them from the late sixth century AD. Her expertise includes methodologies for the identification of post-burial disturbance  and she is a founder member of the Archaeothanatology Working Group.

From 2018 to 2022 she was editor of Current Swedish Archaeology, Sweden's leading peer-reviewed journal for the discipline, together with Sophie Bergerbrant.

At Stockholm Alison has supervised 16 successful MA dissertations and co-supervised Anna Sörman's 2018 PhD thesis. She is currently PhD co-supervisor for Meghan Mattsson McGinnis, André Nordin, Jenny Nyberg and Moa Råhlander.

She has co-ordinated two themes in the SU Humanities Faculty interdisciplinary Doctoral School in the Humanities: from 2017-2019 'Materiality and the Human' and from 2020-2021 the theme 'Digital Humanities'. This involved designing and directing courses for PhD students across the Humanities Faculty. At MA level she directed the dissertation course for 7 years from 2013-2019 and directed and taught the theory courses from 2012-2018. Undergraduate teaching includes the Viking Age in Northern Europe and along the Eastern Routes from 2016-2018 and the first-year field excavation course in 2017 and 2018.

From 2018 to 2021 she led a project funded by Vetenskapsrådet / The Swedish Research Council entitled 'Att handskas med de döda. Tro och tvist i Europa efter Rom (450-750 e. kr.)' / 'Interacting with the dead. Belief and conflict in Early Medieval Europe (AD 450-750)' with Astrid Noterman as postdoctoral researcher.

Alison is PI for the project 'Collecting the dead: life course and kin relations in the transition to churchyard burial on Gotland (c.950-1250 AD)' funded by Stiftelsen Marcus and Amalia Wallenbergs Minnesfond from 2023-2024.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database

  • Reopening graves in the early Middle Ages

    2021. Alison Klevnäs (et al.). Antiquity 95 (382), 1005-1026


    Across Europe early medieval archaeologists have long recognised significant numbers of graves displaying evidence for the intentional post-burial disturbance of skeletons and artefacts. The practice of reopening and manipulating graves soon after burial, traditionally described—and dismissed—as ‘robbing’, is documented at cemeteries from Transylvania to southern England. This article presents a synthesis of five recent regional studies to investigate the evidence of and the motivations for the reopening of early medieval graves. From the later sixth century AD, the reopening of individual graves and removal of selected artefact types rapidly became part of the shared treatment of the dead across this wide area.

    Read more about Reopening graves in the early Middle Ages
  • Imbued with the Essence of the Owner'

    2016. Alison Margaret Klevnäs. European Journal of Archaeology 19 (3), 456-476


    This article examines the wide range of grave disturbance practices seen in Viking-age burials across Scandinavia. It argues that the much-debated reopenings at high-profile sites, notably the Norwegian royal' mounds, should be seen against a background of widespread and varied evidence for burial reworking in Scandinavia throughout the first-millennium ad and into the Middle Ages. Interventions into Viking-age graves are interpreted as disruptive, intended to derail practices of memory-creation set in motion by funerary displays and monuments. However, the reopening and reworking of burials were also mnemonic citations in their own right, using a recurrent set of practices to make heroic, mythological, and genealogical allusions. The retrieval of portable artefacts was a key element in this repertoire, and in this article I use archaeological and written sources to explore the particular concepts of ownership which enabled certain possessions to work as material citations appropriating attributes of dead persons for living claimants.

    Read more about Imbued with the Essence of the Owner'
  • Abandon Ship! Digging out the Dead from the Vendel Boat-Graves

    2015. Alison Klevnäs. Norwegian Archaeological Review 48 (1), 1-20


    The boat-grave cemetery at Vendel, Uppland, is one of the iconic sites of first-millennium Sweden. The high-status grave-goods and weaponry have been widely displayed and studied since their discovery over 130 years ago. Yet it is rarely mentioned that the burial ground had been almost completely ransacked long before archaeologists stepped in. The celebrated finds are only a fraction of the wealth that was originally buried at the site.

    This is the first evaluation of the evidence of disturbance from Vendel since the excavations in the late 19th century. The ancient re-opening of the graves is reconstructed through the letters and diaries of the excavator, Hjalmar Stolpe, as well as the various preliminary and final reports. Evidence is presented that the main parts of the burials, notably the human bones, were systematically dug out of nearly every grave and removed from the site. The reopening probably took place during the Christianization period, before or during the construction of the nearby church in the 13th century. This is an example of the widespread reworking of monuments at this time, specifically highlighting the significance accorded to buried human remains.

    Read more about Abandon Ship! Digging out the Dead from the Vendel Boat-Graves
  • Whodunnit? Grave robbery in Anglo-Saxon England and the Merovingian kingdoms

    2013. Alison Klevnäs.


    Grave robbery is widely recorded in the cemeteries of early medieval Europe, but this research is the first systematic regional study. Critically assesses all that is currently known of grave disturbance in the Merovingian kingdoms, and shows that there is significant evidence for the same practice in Anglo-Saxon England. Investigates in detail an intensive outbreak in 6th-7th century Kent. Aims to advance the debate about early medieval disturbance from general discussion of explanatory possibilities to evaluation of specific interpretations and their compatibility with the archaeological evidence. The conclusions have significant implications for the interpretation of grave robbery across early medieval Europe, and for recognizing and understanding grave disturbance more widely.

    Read more about Whodunnit? Grave robbery in Anglo-Saxon England and the Merovingian kingdoms

Show all publications by Alison Klevnäs at Stockholm University