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Kungagraven – A Grave Fit for a Nordic Bronze Age King, But Who Was Buried Inside?

Kungagraven – A Grave Fit for a Nordic Bronze Age King, But Who Was Buried Inside?


The number of mysterious stone constructions and burials left by ancient Nordic people is impressive. However, the King's Grave near Kivik has a special place in history. It's one of the most striking archaeological sites related to the people who lived in the area during the Bronze Age.

The Nordic Bronze Age people left many surprising and enigmatic monuments and megaliths, such as burials in the form of stone ships. But in the city of Kivik, close to Scania in southern Sweden, researchers also found a unique burial which sheds some light on the region’s ancient rulers.

A Tomb for Kings

The tomb is located only 320 meters (1,000 ft.) from the Scania coastline. The site was apparently seen as a good source for stones over the years, and many elements of the construction have already been lost. Therefore, it was really hard to conclude what the strange stone building was before it was excavated. However, when researchers found two burials, it became obvious that it was a special place in the past.

Entrance to the Kungagraven “The King’s Grave” in Kivik, Sweden.

Entrance to the Kungagraven “The King’s Grave” in Kivik, Sweden. (CC BY SA 3.0)

The tomb is dated back to c. 1000 BC. There were two cists in the mound of the tomb and stone slabs measuring 0.65 meters (2.1 ft.) wide and 1.2 meters (3.9 ft.) long near them. The construction is circular, but very different from most other known European burials from the Bronze Age. In total, it is 76 meters (250 ft.) in diameter – a big archaeological site.

The cists are decorated with petroglyphs which show people and animals. For example, there is a depiction of a chariot drawn by two horses. Apart from the horses, the animals presented in the petroglyphs are birds and fish. Researchers also found images of ships and mysterious symbols.

One of the slabs of stone shows a horse drawn chariot with two four-spoked wheels.

One of the slabs of stone shows a horse drawn chariot with two four-spoked wheels. (Dbachmann/CC BY SA 3.0)

In Search of Treasure

The story of the tomb’s discovery starts around 1748 when the site was still in use as a quarry for construction materials. One day, two farmers discovered a tomb, which was 3.3 meters (11 ft.) long and positioned north-south. It was made of stone slabs, but the farmers started to dig in it thinking that they may find treasure underground. It is hard to hide something like this in a small community, so very soon the story that they discovered a wonderful treasure became hot gossip. The two farmers were arrested by the authorities, who were annoyed that they weren't informed about the discovery beforehand. The time in jail made the men tell the truth – they found nothing interesting in their dig. The farmers were released, but the story about the site didn't end there.

Official excavations began in 1931. The works were led by Gustaf Hallstrom, an archaeologist who dug there between 1931 and 1933. Archaeologists discovered that the stone slabs found by the farmers are more than just stones – they are treasures from ancient times with messages presented via the petroglyphs. Unfortunately, some of the priceless stones with petroglyphs had been damaged by the local community when they removed them from the site for other buildings.

Hallstrom’s team excavated the remains of a settlement dating back to the Stone Age, but underground they found only a few items related to the Bronze Age, like pieces of bones, teeth, and some bronze fragments.

Decorated stone slabs inside The King’s Grave.

Decorated stone slabs inside The King’s Grave. (Schorle/CC BY SA 3.0)

A Land of Megaliths and Forgotten Kings

Scandinavia is a territory full of lost ancient treasures, tombs, and megalithic structures which were misunderstood for years. But the work of many researchers is enabling us to understand the meaning of the constructions and life for the people who lived in the region in ancient times.

Archaeologists have tried to reconstruct the site, but the truth is that nobody knows for certain what things were like in the Bronze Age. Kungagraven is now a museum and all of the artifacts discovered at the site are presented in a beautiful exhibition. Every year, thousands of tourists visit this place, which is one of the greatest attractions in Sweden from the Bronze Age. However, what they see is the effect of the effort and imagination of archaeologists.

The tomb is called ''The King's Grave'' because of its size, which made people think that it must have belonged to someone very important in ancient society. The truth is, that it is unknown who the people buried there were. However, logic says that those who imagine a royal burial were probably not far from the truth. The tomb could have held the remains of important warriors or rulers.

Detail of a stone slab of the "King's Grave", Kivik, Sweden.

Detail of a stone slab of the "King's Grave", Kivik, Sweden. (Dbachmann/CC BY SA 3.0)

Modern researchers have had difficulty in pinpointing what people generally call “treasure” at the site of Kungagraven. However, the most intriguing aspect in this site is the idea that the bones discovered in the tomb belonged to unknown rulers or other important figures. It is undebatable that these people must have been influential, and for that reason they were provided with a magnificent tomb created by the people who lived in the area more than 3000 years ago.

Top Image: Decorated stones within the tomb, Kivik, Sweden. Source: Uwe Glaubach/CC BY 3.0

By Natalia Klimczak


Nya fynd i Kungagraven, available at:

Kiviksgraven (Kungagraven), available at:

Kiviksgraven, available at:

Kiviksgraven (Kungagraven), available at:



Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She... Read More

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