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Publication . Article . 2019

Det henrettede par i dobbeltgravhøjene i Kópavogur syd for Reykjavík i Ísland

Lise Bertelsen; Guðmundur Ólafsson;
Open Access
Published: 01 Jan 2019 Journal: Scripta Islandica: Isländska Sällskapets Årsbok, volume 70, pages 37-59 (issn: 0582-3234, eissn: 2001-9416, Copyright policy )
Publisher: Uppsala University
Country: Sweden

In September 1704 a man named Sæmundur Þórarinsson was murdered by the river Elliðaá (fig. 1). Steinunn Guðmundsdóttir, his 43-year old wife, and Sigur­ður Arason, a 26-year-old man who lived with his mother, had had an affair and when Sæmundur was found dead in the river, rumours arose that he had been murdered. Sigurður was arrested for the murder. He first denied all allegations, but eventually he confessed and said that Steinunn had urged him to kill her hus­band. On November 14tth they were both sentenced to death at Kópavogur’s assembly and executed the following day. He was beheaded and his head put on a stake. She was drowned. Both were buried in unconsecrated ground on the opposite side of the road (fig. 2). In the spring of 1988, the archaeologists Guðmundur Ólafsson, Lise Gjedssø Bertelsen and Sigurður Bergsteinsson excavated their remains. The excavation uncovered a pair of barrows (fig. 3). A lot of small stones had been thrown on top of the original layer by passers-by, a custom which prevented revenance according to Icelandic folklore. Grave 1. Under the pile of stones, in a shallow grave, with no traces of a coffin, lay the skeleton of a woman (figs. 4–6). Her legs were crossed, and most of the bones from the toes were not found. The left arm was slanted down towards the stomach, the right arm inclined up towards the chest. The fists were clenched. The skull was in a strange distorted position. Two cervical vertebrae lay outside normal position, and the two front upper teeth were missing, but one was found in the grave behind the skull. She had been drowned with a sack covering her upper body. Although the missing toes and teeth raised the suspicion of torture, there is, no written evidence of torture in Kópavogur and by civil law, torture of the accused, but yet not convicted was banned and recent analysis showed no signs of torture. A confession given under torture could not be used as evidence in a lawsuit, however, when a person had been sentenced to death, he or she could be tortured, as an addition to the punishment in Denmark as well as in Iceland. Grave 2. On top of the second pile of stones a lower jaw of a man’s skull was found and some loose teeth, the grim remains of the skull that had been placed on a stake, and eventually fallen down (fig. 7). In a shallow grave under the stones lay the skeleton of the beheaded man (figs. 6 & 8), with the skull and the upper 2½ cervical vertebrae missing. The legs were crossed (figs. 6 & 8). By his feet was a 9 cm wide round hole for the stake, supported by several stones. The decapitated head had been placed at the top of the stake to intimidate passers-by on the road (figs. 6 & 8). There were no traces of a coffin. From literary sources we know that at least 12 death sentences were carried out at Kópavogur’s assembly. The last one was carried out in 1704 over Steinunn and Sigurður in accordance to Icelandic law. The Kópavogur gravesite is the only excavated execution site in Iceland, but comparable cases have been found in Denmark, such as one from 1822. Thomas Thoma­sen Bisp was executed in Vendsyssel for the murder of his wife Maren Just­datter. He had an affair with his maid Ane Margrethe Christensdatter and poisoned his wife. Thomas was sentenced to death by beheading and penalty on wheels and steep. Thomas’s body, including the head pierced by an iron nail, was soon removed and buried in a nearby hill, where it lay undisturbed for 78 years until road workers discovered it (fig. 9). Then the bones came at Vendsyssel Historical Museum. Ane Margrethe was sentenced to lifelong work detention in Viborg Prison, but after many years she was pardoned.

Subjects by Vocabulary

Microsoft Academic Graph classification: Ancient history Art media_common.quotation_subject media_common Wife


Kópavogur, excavation, Iceland; graves, skeletons, murder; execution of death sentences; punishment methods; death penalty by drowning, beheading and wheels and steep, Sakamannadysjar í Kópavogi/Hjónadysjar; Henrettet par i dobbelt­gravhøje i Kópavogur, Ísland, History and Archaeology, Historia och arkeologi

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