Opened an 800 year old coffin

There was a lot of excitement in the air at Skálholt yesterday when the 800-year-old stone chest of Bishop Páll Jónsson in Skálholt was opened. Dr. Joe Wallace Wasler III, an expert on human bones at the National Museum of Iceland, plans to examine the remains of Jónsson, who died in 1211. Over the past few years Wasler has been at the centre of archaeological research into epidemics and changes in the diet of different Icelanders in previous centuries.

Wallace Wasler, who has also studied the remains of other Skálholt bishops who lived in the 17th and 18th centuries, says the remains found in Skálholt offer a unique opportunity for archaeological research because there is already significant information about the lives of people in Skálholt in the past centuries.

Four-person task

The chest, weighing 30 pounds (73 kg), needed four to assist with the opening. It is held in place by a heavy stone lid, which has broken down in several pieces over time. The lid had to be removed in successive steps before the coffin containing the remains of Paul could be removed.

Then, Bishop Kristján Björnsson of the diocese of Skálholt said a prayer before the attendees in order not to disrupt the calm of the dead. Once the coffin was retrieved, it was finally re-positioned with great precision by the staff of the National Museum of Iceland.

The coffin of  Páll Jónsson was last opened in 1954 after being discovered during a research project on the cemetery in Skálholt.

More is written about this event in the Morgunblaðið today.


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Later today

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