This week, the results of the analysis of the remains of what is believed to be Erik Jedvardsson, made by researchers at Uppsala University and Stockholm University were presented. Erik Jedvardsson was one of the first Swedish kings and, according to the legend, killed by a Danish pretender to the throne in 1160 on a site near where the Uppsala Cathedral was later built. After his death he was canonized and named Erik the Saint.

His remains believed to have been contained in a shrine since 1257. The bones in this reliquary, which is located in Uppsala Cathedral, was thoroughly examined in 1946 but the development of new examination methods motivated that it was reopened in 2014. Since then, researchers from various fields have examined the skeleton under the leadership of Sabine Stone, Professor of osteoarchaeology at Uppsala University. In mid-March, the first results from the examinations were made public.

Documented injuries to the relics

Three researchers from the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University has participated in the analysis of the remains – Professor Kerstin Lidén, Associate Professor Anna Kjellström and doctoral student Markus Fjellström.

Anna Kjellström’s task has been to document the traces of trauma, i.e. different types of injuries on the remains and analyse when they may have occurred – long before the time of death, in connection with or long after death? Kerstin Lidén and Mark Fjellström conducted the analysis of stable isotopes to examine the individual's diet and to see if there were traces of migration on the skeleton.

What was the most interesting finding of your analysis?

“I think we all were curious about the fact that the isotope analysis suggests that the man, at least during the final years of his life, seems to have moved around much in Västergotland. Personally, I think it is interesting to study traces of the management and treatment of the body that should have occurred after death. The remnants were brushed with egg white and also appears to have been cleaned mechanically”, says Anna Kjellström.

Possible that the legend is true

Can this confirm that the relics in the reliquary belong to Erik the Holy and that the legend of his death is true? Analyses suggest it may be true. Enclosed in the reliquary there are 23 bones that all belong to the same individual. Carbon-14 value examinations of the relics are consistent with a death occurring around the year of 1160. The osteological analysis shows that the bones belong to a man who was 35-40 years old and 171 cm tall.

The skull bears traces of one or two to injuries that may have occurred after violence with weapons. The legend says Erik led a crusade to Finland and that the injury could have occurred then. The legend also says that the king during his final blow was surrounded by enemies, and when he fell to the ground, he was wounded again and again until he was almost dead. Then he was mocked, and finally got his head cut off. The preserved bones have at least nine marks of blows incurred in connection with death. Seven of those can be found on the legs. One of the cervical vertebras have been cut off, which could not have been made without removing the chain mail. The documented injury contradicts thus not at any point the course of the battle as it is recorded in the much later legend.

In conjunction with the opening of the reliquary, samples were also taken for DNA analysis. The hope is to obtain results which can provide new knowledge about kinmanship. This analysis is not yet complete and is expected to take another year.

Incorporation of research results

Further studies of Erik the Holy are not being planned by Anna Kjellström and her colleagues for the moment. However, they will incorporate the results in their research on the living conditions of the people in early medieval environments.

What can the study of Erik's skeleton bring to your research?

“In archaeology it is rare that the analysis of an individual can bring much knowledge as we commonly know very little about the person’s background. In this case however (if we can assume that this is Erik the Holy), we can contextualize our results from the survey. We can then obtain knowledge about health, diet, mobility, and so on of a person from the aristocracy. This will be an interesting reference point when we are working with other types of contexts from the same period. The management of the body as relics also provides increased knowledge about the religious beliefs of the time.”

What other research projects do you currently participate in?

“For the moment I am mainly engaged in the Atlas project in which population geneticists and archaeologists are examining the genetics of a large number of prehistoric skeletons on the basis of a variety of archaeological perspectives.

Read more at the Uppsala University website “New research sheds light on the life of Saint Erik”:,4,5,6,10,16&typ=artikel&lang=en