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Irish Viking king Olaf Guthfrithsson

Archaeologists believe they have found Irish Viking king Olaf Guthfrithsson


Archaeologists found a set of ancient remains during an archaeological dig in East Lothian, Scotland, which is believed to be the Irish Viking king Olaf Guthfrithsson, according to a report on STV News. The burial indicates the young adult male was a member of the elite and spent time in the household of the kings of the Uí Ímar dynasty.

The discovery was first made in 2005 during an excavation by AOC Archaeology Group at Auldhame in East Lothian, and since then, researchers have been trying to piece together the circumstances of his death and his true identity.

The young adult male was buried with a number of grave goods, which indicated he was a high social rank. One of the items was a belt, which is linked to the kings of the Uí Ímar dynasty, which dominated both sides of the Irish Sea from the mid-9 th to the mid-10 th century.  One of the greatest dynasties of the Viking Age, the Uí Ímair were, at their height, the most fearsome and wide-reaching power in the British Isles and perhaps beyond. However, they ultimately failed to make any long-lasting territorial gains of significance and are considered a strategic failure, despite their considerable economic and political influence.

Viking King of Ireland Skull

Part of the skull which could be that of a Viking King of Ireland. Credit: Donald MacLeod

Olaf Guthfrithsson was the King of Dublin and Northumbria from 934 to 941 and a member of the Uí Ímair Dynasty. In 937, Olaf defeated his Norse rivals based at Limerick, leaving him free to pursue his family claim to the throne of York. Shortly before his death in 941, Olaf Guthfrithsson sacked Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame - both part of a complex of East Lothian churches dedicated to the eighth century Saint Balthere.

The Viking skeleton was found close to the site of the conflict, and this combined with the items found with the body, has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that it may be that of the young Irish king or a member of his entourage.

“Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf’s attack on the locale,” said Dr Alex Woolf, senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews, and a historical consultant on the project.

"Since we have a single furnished burial in what was probably perceived as St Balthere’s original foundation there is a strong likelihood that the king’s followers hoped that by burying him in the saint’s cemetery he might have benefitted from some sort of post-mortem penance.”

Featured image: Artist’s depiction of a Viking King. Image source.

By April Holloway



Justbod's picture

Although the evidence is circumstantial and they are unable to confirm the skeleton's identity by DNA, this is still a really interesting story. It always makes history come alive when there is the possibility of linking archaeological discoveries, particularly bodies, to actual events and people.

Thanks for the article!

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aprilholloway's picture


April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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