Skull Traced to 18th-Century Danish Woman Skip to content
Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Residence of Minister
Photo: Golli.

Skull Traced to 18th-Century Danish Woman

Human skull fragments, discovered under the floorboards in the attic of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Tjarnargata this fall, have now been analysed by deCODE genetics. Experts announced this Friday that the skull belonged to a Danish woman who most likely lived and died in Iceland in the 18th century, Vísir reports.

The discovery of the skull sparked curiosity, but no criminal activity was ever suspected. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, herself a scholar and author of crime novels, said at the time that finding human remains in such a noteworthy setting should provide intriguing story material.

Brown hair and brown eyes

At yesterday’s press conference at the Residence, however, it was confirmed that no foul play was involved. CEO of deCODE, Kári Stefánsson said that distant relatives of the woman can be found in Denmark, but that Danish authorities did not allow further inquiry into which Danish people she was related to. Geneticists Agnar Helgason and Sunna Ebenesersdóttir introduced the findings and revealed that the woman may have had brown hair and brown eyes. No descendants or relatives of hers exist in Iceland.

Agnar mentioned a theory that the woman’s remains may have originated from nearby Víkurkirkjugarður cemetery. Major construction has taken place in the area throughout the years and human remains have regularly been discovered as a result.

Recent renovations

Renovation work, including enhanced fire protection measures, recently commenced at the Minister’s Residence. Significant modifications were previously carried out in 1980, and additional upgrades were made toward the end of the 20th century. The investment in maintenance work comes as the residence has seen increased use in recent years, particularly for governmental meetings and similar functions.

The minister’s residence in Reykjavík has a storied history, originating as a one-story log house built in 1892 by Norwegian Hans Ellefssen for his whaling station in Önundarfjörður. Sold to Iceland’s first minister, Hannes Hafstein, for a nominal fee, the house was disassembled and moved to Reykjavík in the early 20th century. It served as the official residence for Icelandic prime ministers until the 1940s, with its last occupant being Hermann Jónasson. Over the years, the residence has hosted various dignitaries including David Ben Gurion and Duke Philip of Edinburgh, and has been used for receptions and meetings.

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