Skeleton find ‘could be Irish Viking king’

Fiona Hyslop with belt buckle and remains. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Fiona Hyslop with belt buckle and remains. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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A skeleton unearthed in East Lothian could be that of an Irish Viking king, experts believe.

Archaeologists think they may have found the remains of Olaf Guthfrithsson, who was the King of Dublin and ­Northumbria from 934 to 941, or possibly a member of his entourage.

The skeleton was discovered on an archaeological dig at Auldhame in East Lothian in 2005, after a farmer ploughing a field came across the bones which were found to date back centuries. The dig revealed a total of 243 skeletons along with the remains of a chapel, but one set of remains stood out from the rest of those in the ancient graveyard as it was found with artefacts which would have belonged to someone who held a high or royal rank. It is only now that archaeologists and historians have been able to complete their research, which indicates that the skeleton could be Guthfrithsson.

The remains are those of a young adult male who was ­buried with items indicating a high rank, including a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.

Experts said the belt ­suggested the body was that of a man who spent time in the household of the kings of the Ui Imar dynasty which ­dominated both sides of the Irish Sea from about 917 until at least the ­middle of the 10th century.

Guthfrithsson attacked Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame – both part of a ­complex of East Lothian churches ­dedicated to the eighth-century Saint Balthere – shortly before his death near Tyninghame in 941.

The proximity of the remains to the site of the conflict, along with the items of high status found with the body, and the age of the skeleton, led experts to speculate it may be that of the young Irish king or one of his followers.

As there are no known ­living descendants, DNA analysis cannot be carried out to ­confirm the identity of the body.

Dr Alex Woolf of St Andrews University, a historical consultant on the project, said: “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.”

The case will feature in a book next year being published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and funded by Historic Scotland.

A seminar at Edinburgh Castle in October will look at engendering greater archaeological ­collaboration between ­Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.