The Kivik King's Grave
Bredarör på Kivik

Ariel View c. 2004

Few burial monuments in Scandinavia have been as well studied as Bredarör on Kivik, a  Bronze Age cairn, located half a mile north of Simrishamn on the southeastern coast of Skåne. Dated to roughly 1600 BC, and perhaps earlier, the site measures 75 meters in diameter. It is the largest mound of its type in Sweden. Systematically plundered for building materials in centuries past, a central stone chamber was uncovered in 1748, containing a central stone-cist, measuring 3.8 meters long by 1 meter wide, formed of upright stone slabs, the size of a human grave. The original contents of the cist are unknown, having been removed sometime prior to the cairn's first documention, thereby destroying evidence which would have allowed more accurate dating. Historically, excavation of the site has been poorly recorded.

18th Century Drawing of the Kivik site by F. G. Feldt
In the summer of 1748, two farmers quarrying in the old mound uncovered a stone tomb. They are rumored to have searched the tomb all night in hope of finding treasure. Although, no one knows what the two men may have found, local legend reports that they discovered something big. Whether the tomb had been robbed of valuables is uncertain. Previous researchers at the site assumed that the grave was that of a middle-aged man, probably a chieftain. Therefore the mound came to be known as Kungagraven – The King’s Grave. In the 1930s, archaeological work at the site revealed a second tomb; near the larger stone coffin, raised slabs formed another burial chamber now called Prinskammaren – The Prince’s Chamber, due to its smaller size. However, more recent analysis of human remains found within the chamber indicates that several teenagers were interned within.  Excavated by both grave robbers and archaeologists, the tomb had been nearly demolished.  When their work was complete, the archaeologists of the 1930s reconstructed the mound and opened a passage to allow visitors to tour the once hidden burial chamber.  You can view a short film of the site at Enjoy Sweden.

Botanist Karl Linné first described the grave in 1749 in his Skanskå Resa, p. 127. The grave-cist consists of  10 stone slabs, set closely together, each over 1 meter (nearly four feet) high by about 1 meter wide and 20-25 centimeters thick. Four slabs form each side with one on each end. The grave points north and south, and was once covered with three large capstones.
In 1750, the capstones covering the cist were removed for the first time, revealing images engraved on  the interior face of 7 of the 8 stone slabs forming its side walls. Neither cut nor polished, the inner surfaces containing the pictures are relatively smooth. Among the images are groups of human figures, including musicians; a horse drawn cart and driver, as well as early Bronze Age style weapons. The newly-discovered figures attracted considerable attention and several drawings of them were made in the later half of the 18th century, including those by F. G. Feldt, Nils Wessman, and C. G. G. Hifleling.   Two of these stones were considered lost for more than 70 years in the early 19th century, but had been recovered by the early 20th century.

While no definitive interpretation of these images can ever be made, their close affiliation to other Bronze Age Rock Carvings (Swedish: hällristninger; Norwegian: helleristningar) in the region has been well-documented and thus the Kivik Grave petroglyphs should be viewed in the context of the large number of rock-art sites found throughout Scandinavia dating from the late Bronze Age (1800-500 BC). For a sampling of a wide variety of these, see  On The Rocks. The area surrounding the tomb is home to many Bronze Age monuments. The Ängakåsen Grave Field, featuring a "stone boat" lies about 300 meters away. From the grave field, a pre-historic road once led to the sea. Other significant sites in the immediate region include: Skelhøj on Jutland, Sagaholm in Northern Småland, and Mjeltehaugem from Giske in Sunnmøre.

1. Bredarör på Kivik;  2. Skelhøj on Jutland;  3. Sagaholm, Northern Småland.

Depicted on the stone slabs facing the interior of the grave are groups of human figures, often interpreted as participants in scenes from a ritual drama. As the images face inward toward the grave, the individual buried in the cairn is thus the presumed focus of the elaborate ceremony illustrated on the slabs. The scenes are thought to represent Bronze Age mortuary rituals, religious symbols and grave goods.

Artist's Depiction appearing in Swedish Textbooks
by Arvid Fougstedt, 1936

After Harald Faith-Ell, 1942


Each carved slab is each framed by a stylized decorative border, thought to imitate texile edging by some scholars. The framed pictures engraved on the slabs are among the most notable works of art from the Bronze Age. Some slabs are difficult to read due to damage and wear. Besides this,  a number of images are unique in the Scandinavian rock carving tradition, which makes the Kivik King's grave one of the most remarkable archaeological monuments in Sweden.   

 The four figures on the top right clearly represent musicians. Three appear to blow the large curved bronze horns known as Lur, found throughout Scandinavia. The presence of Lur players implies religious activity. The purpose of the two figures in the U-shaped object on the top left are unknown, but may represent drummers of some sort.
In the center, below the musicans, 8 curved figures gather around a cistern or altar. They may represent dancers. These draped figures, who might be wearing hooded robes, are often identified as female, and frequently compared to the winged and beaked figures depicted 'dancing' in other Bronze Age petroglyphs and on the Oseberg tapestry. In this light, these 'female' figures are evocative of the bird-guises worn by mythological disir, including Freyja, Frigg and the swan-maidens of Völundarkviða. 

At the top of the Oseberg Tapestry (834 AD), we also find a procession of 8 robed figures, walking behind a man carrying a symbol, all led by a costumed horned figure. They accompany a covered wagon, perhaps holding an idol:

A similar scene appears on a Götland picture stone from the Viking Age:

Procession of Hooded figures on the Garde Bote Picture Stone, Götland 

On the bottom row of the same stone at Kivik, 8 complimentary male figures, gather in two groups of four, each before an unidentified open structure, perhaps a drum or sacrifical vat. They be musicians, priests or warriors. On the left, an armed man appears to lead 3 captives, perhaps human sacrifices. On the adjacent stone, some of the same figures are repeated:


At the top, 4 male figures gather. Three appear to be armed (see below). At the bottom of the stone,  a line of 8 'female' figures follow a male 'dancer'.  In the upper right panel, a man stands  on a chariot, drawn by a pair of horses. In later sources both divinities and royalty frequently ride in such carts.   

The Remaining Stones at Kivik are Illustrated with
Bronze Age Symbols Common in Ancient Scandinavian Art

In the Summer of 2014, using forensic techniques, archaeologists Tommy Andersson
 and Andreas Toreld were able to recover these images from one of the damaged stones.
Visit their site for full documentation of their important work.

Bronze Age Axe Heads are depicted on two of the Kivik stones
along with spoked 'sun wheels'

Bronze Age Axe

Bronze 'Sun-Wheels' found near Zürich, Switzerland. 


Drawings of  Bronze Age Figures found at Grevensvænge, Zealand in 1779, dated between 600-800 BC.
Today, only part of one of these figures has been preserved (below, right).


Horned Helmet from the Veskoe Bog

Bronze figures found at
Grevensvænge, Zealand in 1779.


Numerous similar figures have been found on the rock-carvings.
Here an acrobatic figure leaps over a ship, in a similar pose to a single figure found at
Grevensvænge, Zealand, along with the horned, axe-wielding figures (above, right)

Another acrobat among other figures on a ship from Bohuslan:

Axe Wielding Figures on Petroglyphs at Tanum, Böhuslan, Sweden

Horned figure, perhaps representing a god, with armed warriors in a boat.
The figure has also been interpreted as an oversized ceremonial effigy.

Horned figures playing Lur, perhaps dressed as Animals,
indicated by the size and shape of their legs, and possibly curved tails.

Axe Wielding figure at the center of a ceremony
 on a boat with Lur player at Tanum, Böhuslan, Sweden


Musicians and Dancers on a Boat at Tanum, Böhuslan, Sweden

Axe Wielding Figures with spoked wheels from Tanumshede, Sweden
Here, they may represent shields.


Figures at Bohuslan often interpreted as Thor

Thor blessing a marriage 

Thor in his goat-drawn chariot

Thor (with hammer) and Thjalfi face Hrungnir and Mokkurkalfi
at Tossene Panel 32-1