Bessastaðir Excavation Unearths Mother and Daughter Skip to content
bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Photo: Art Bicnick.

Bessastaðir Excavation Unearths Mother and Daughter

Archaeological excavations at Bessastaðir, the residence of the President of Iceland, have turned up two skeletons. Archaeologists believe the remains belong to a mother and daughter, said to have died of “heartbreak.” Vísir reports.

Unmarked grave

The recent discovery was made in an old grave site which abuts the Bessastaðir church.

bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Art Bicnick

The two skeletons still need to be tested in order to confirm their age and gender, but Hermann Jakob Hjartarson, an archaeologist overseeing the project, believes the remains may belong to the mother and daughter Anna Helena and Anna Vilhelmína, who may have died a tragic death in the 18th century.

Hermann stated to Vísir: “The mother was [likely] married to the viceroy of Iceland in the 18th century, Lauritz Thodal. He had this grave dug with his own money, but it’s not written anywhere as to who was buried here.”

Testing of the bones in question will hopefully resolve the mystery soon.

Died of “heartbreak”

“According to the sources, she [the daughter] died of a broken heart, whatever that may mean,” Hermann continued to Vísir. “She became involved with a merchant from Hafnarfjörður, and her step-father did not approve of this relationship and forbade her from being with him. The story goes that she languished and died shortly after.”

The daughter is believed to have been 18 years old when she died.

bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Art Bicnick

Other findings

In addition to the potentially tragic remains, several other notable findings were made during the most recent excavations at Bessastaðir, including a church floor, likely from the sixteenth century, leading to the old church underneath the new one, and four musket balls.

“It’s not clear what that tells us, except that at some point in time, a bullet was shot here,” said Hermann.

He continued: “We may actually be onto some sort of layer here underneath this. It remains to be seen, but there are indications that there is something slightly older beneath this layer.”

Archaeology at Bessastaðir

In the course of its history, Bessastaðir has numbered among the largest and most significant farmsteads in Iceland. A former residence of Snorri Sturluson, it later became a residence for representatives of the Danish king. It has also been a school and the residence of notable Icelandic poet Grímur Thomsen, before it was given to the Icelandic state in the first half of the 20th century, subsequently serving as the residence of the President of Iceland.

bessastaðir archaeology 2024
Art Bicnick

Archaeological excavations have been continuing on and off at the presidential residence for some time. Some of the most significant excavations took place between 1987 and 1996, which discovered a 3.5 m [11.4 ft]-thick layer of human habitation dating back to the 10th-11th centuries. Among the many interesting discoveries made at Bessastaðir include some of the best-preserved insect remains in Iceland, which have given archaeologists insight into the conditions at the time of settlement.

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