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Scandinavian Runestones: Viking History in Plain Sight
Discover the most impressive runestones from the Viking Age and even earlier. This historic form of writing can be seen all across Scandinavia to this day.
The recent discovery of several Viking ship graves in Norway has lifted interest in Viking history to new heights. While there’s no doubting the fascinating discoveries being made, some truly remarkable Viking artifacts exist in plain sight throughout Scandinavia: runestones.
How A Super Famous Runestone Became Part Of A Bridge
“It feels unbelievable, because it was a completely normal excavation monitoring,” exclaimed Axel Krogh Hansen , an archaeologist from Sweden’s National Historical Museums. “We found some porcelain fragments and bricks in the lower layers from the 18 th century, and I joked a bit with the others that ‘now we have to be a little careful so we do not get rune or image stone,’ and then suddenly we have a carved stone right in front of us.”
Incredibly, it seems that the newly recovered runestone was removed from the Hunnestad Monument and used as a foundation stone for a bridge constructed over a nearby river sometime in the distant past. This is the fourth stone (of the original eight) from the monument to be recovered the other three are currently on display at the Kulturen Museum in Lund, where the new stone may soon be headed.
“This is a fun, fantastic find, which we did not think would happen,” said Magnus Kallstrom, a rune expert from Sweden’s National Heritage Board. “This will give us a lot of new knowledge, in several areas, about art, religious history, and archaeology.”
The unique image stone has been missing since the 18th century. (Image: Annika Knarrström / Arkeologerna )
Secrets of the Viking Stone
Secrets of the Viking Stone follows Swedish actor, Peter Stormare (Fargo, John Wick 2, Prison Break) and history enthusiast Elroy Balgaard as they set out to solve the mystery surrounding the Kensington Runestone: an artefact that could rewrite the history of North America.
The runestone is a 92kg slab of carved stone that was discovered near Kensington, a small town in central Minnesota in 1898 by a Swedish immigrant, Olof Öhman. The inscription on the stone was purportedly inscribed by Scandinavian explorers from the 14th century and records their journey to North America. If real, the runestone would place Scandinavians in North America 100 years before Columbus made landfall in Hispanola.
Read more about: Secrets of the Viking Stone
The Kensington Runestone: A Viking mystery
Sky HISTORY spoke to Peter Stormare over Zoom to discuss the origins of the fabled runestone and why he's convinced that it is genuine.
Sky HISTORY: What is the premise of the show?
Peter Stormare: I try to clear a guy called Olof Öhman from the accusations that he carved a runestone in the US in the late 19th century and prove that Scandinavians were able to sail into the middle of America, in the 13th or 14th century.
Why do you feel so strongly about clearing Olof Öhman’s name?
He was from the next village over from me [in Sweden]. I found out we immigrated 100 years apart and I was drawn in. It was like a calling.
He was accused of making the runestone himself but he never made a cent from it. It brought his family darkness, they became a laughing stock.
Read more about: Vikings
Three of the greatest Viking explorers that ever set sail
Why do think that Öhman didn't make the runestone himself?
He had a homestead and he had to fight really hard to build a little shack. Before that, he lived in a cave with his wife and two kids for a long time before he could build it. And it seems like those academics who say he made the runestone himself, don't understand what immigrants had to go through and the hardships they faced.
They didn't have time to carve a runestone for half a year because they needed bread. They needed to plough the land otherwise they would lose everything.
I would have been very sceptical if after finding it, he put it on display and charged money to see it but he didn't. He gave it away. He said, 'I wish I never found the darn stone'.
Read more about: Vikings
Fiercest female Viking warriors
Can you describe what a runestone is and what its purpose was?
A runestone is a piece of a great slab, they can be three or four metres tall and a couple of metres wide. The Vikings erected them as memorabilia for their achievements at the time, like a diary saying something like 'Sven was here together with Torbjorn and we carved this runestone on our journey'.
Read more about: Vikings
Vikings, Living in America
Sometimes they erected them for someone who died like a king. They are very beautiful and sometimes were painted in different colours. Sometimes it's hard to decipher what they say because the language is very different [from modern Swedish] and more like how they speak in Iceland today.
Why is the Kensington Runestone so controversial?
Because it would prove that Vikings or the descendants of the Vikings sailed across the Great Lakes, all the way into the heartland of the US.
Why do you believe it's possible, Vikings could have sailed all the way to Minnesota?
Well, I say it's an easy ride compared to all the other places the Vikings went. From the year 600AD to the years 1100-1200AD when they became Christians, the Vikings sailed down through Russia, all the way to the Middle East and even further. That is accepted as a fact because we have all the items back in Scandinavia, coins from Asia, coins from Northern Africa and fabric from India.
Read more about: Vikings
Harald Hardrada: The last Viking
It would have taken them four or five days to go to Iceland, four days to go to Greenland and four or five days to go down to Newfoundland. That's easy compared to sailing to the Middle East where you have to sail through lots of little rivers and across the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and into the Caspian Sea.
There's a Viking settlement in Newfoundland and people were living there for 350 years. But it was mainly a station where they repaired ships. It had blacksmiths who are working there, docks and everything for ships to come in and be repaired.
Why do they have a repair shop on the tip of Newfoundland? Because they want to go further inland, to the Hudson Bay or down to Maine or to the coast.
In my heart, I know they sailed into the big lakes of the US and came to the heartland of the US. Why stop at Newfoundland? There's nothing up there really just a repair shop.
Read more about: Vikings
What is the legacy of the Vikings?
Looking at the stone itself, what physical proof is there that it is authentic?
There have been geological experiments being done on this stone many times now and physicists have looked at it, and the weathering of the engravings are said to be at least 300 years old.
Academia says the language is not a 14th century language from Scandinavia, and I say, 'Oh you know exactly how they spoke?' because no one apart from the clergy wrote anything down. Also, there are three runes on the stone that weren't known about till 1934.
So, I asked those people from academia and the world and linguistics, 'How come this guy who never went to school, from northern Sweden, knew three runes that no one in academia in Scandinavia knew about until the mid-1930s?'
Read more about: Mysteries
Did the Ancient Chinese visit the Grand Canyon?
Do these runes, prove the Kensington Runestone is authentic and did Vikings make it all the way to Minnesota? Join Peter Stormare and Elroy Balgaard in Secrets of the Vikings Stone, Mondays at 9pm to discover the truth.
The main purpose of a runestone was to mark territory, to explain inheritance, to boast about constructions, to bring glory to dead kinsmen and to tell of important events. In some parts of Uppland, the runestones also appear to have functioned as social and economical markers. 
Virtually all the runestones from the late Viking Age make use of the same formula. The text tells in memory of whom the runestone is raised, who raised it, and often how the deceased and the one who raised the runestone are related to each other. Also, the inscription can tell the social status of the dead person, possible foreign voyage, place of death, and also a prayer, as in the following example,  the Lingsberg Runestone U 241:
And Danr and Húskarl and Sveinn had the stone erected in memory of Ulfríkr, their father's father. He had taken two payments in England. May God and God's mother help the souls of the father and son.  
Most runestones were raised by men and only one runestone in eight is raised by a single woman, while at least 10% are raised by a woman together with several men. It is common that the runestones were raised by sons and widows of the deceased, but they could also be raised by sisters and brothers. It is almost only in Uppland, Södermanland, and Öland that women raised runestones together with male relatives. It is not known why many people such as sisters, brothers, uncles, parents, housecarls, and business partners can be enumerated on runestones, but it is possible that it is because they are part of the inheritors. 
A vast majority, 94%, are raised in memory of men, but, contrary to common perception, the vast majority of the runestones are raised in memory of people who died at home. The most famous runestones and those that people tend to think of are those that tell of foreign voyages, but they comprise only c. 10% of all runestones,  and they were raised in usually memory of those not having returned from Viking expeditions and not as tributes to those having returned.  These runestones contain roughly the same message as the majority of the runestones, which is that people wanted to commemorate one or several dead kinsmen. 
Expeditions in the East
The first man who scholars know fell on the eastern route was the East Geat Eyvindr whose fate is mentioned on the 9th century Kälvesten Runestone.  The epitath reads:
Styggr/Stigr made this monument in memory of Eyvindr, his son. He fell in the east with Eivísl. Víkingr coloured and Grímulfr.  
It is unfortunate for historians that the stones rarely reveal where the men died.  On the Smula Runestone in Västergötland, we are informed only that they died during a war campaign in the East: "Gulli/Kolli raised this stone in memory of his wife's brothers Ásbjôrn and Juli, very good valiant men. And they died in the east in the retinue".   Another runemaster in the same province laconically states on the Dalum Runestone: "Tóki and his brothers raised this stone in memory of their brothers. One died in the west, another in the east".  
The single country that is mentioned on most runestone is the Byzantine Empire, which at the time comprised most of Asia Minor and the Balkans, as well as a part of Southern Italy. If a man died in the Byzantine Empire, no matter how he had died or in which province, the event was mentioned laconically as "he died in Greece". Sometimes an exception could be made for Southern Italy, which was known as the land of the Lombards, such as Inga's Óleifr who, it is presumed, was a member of the Varangian Guard, and about whom the Djulafors Runestone in Södermanland says: "Inga raised this stone in memory of Óleifr, her . He ploughed his stern to the east, and met his end in the land of the Lombards."  
Other Norsemen died in Gardariki (Russia and Ukraine) such as Sigviðr on the Esta Runestone who his son Ingifastr reported had flew in Novgorod (Holmgarðr): "He fell in Holmgarðr, the ship's leader with the seamen."   There were others who died not as far from home and it appears that there were close contacts with Estonia due to many personal names such as Æistfari ("traveller to Estonia"), Æistulfr ("Wolf of Estonians") and Æistr ("Estonian"). One of the runestones that report of deaths in Estonia is the Ängby Runestone which tells that a Björn had died in Vironia (Virland). 
There were many ways to die as reported by the runestones. The Åda Runestone reports that Bergviðr drowned during a voyage to Livonia,  and the Sjonhem Runestone tells that the Gotlander Hróðfúss was killed in a treacherous way by what was probably a people in the Balkans.  The most famous runestones that tell of eastern voyages are the Ingvar Runestones which tell of Ingvar the Far-Travelled's expedition to Serkland, i.e., the Muslim world. It ended in tragedy as none of the more than 25 runestones that were raised in its memory tells of any survivor. 
Expeditions in the West
Other Vikings travelled westwards. The Anglo-Saxon rulers paid large sums, Danegelds, to Vikings, who mostly came from Denmark and who arrived to the English shores during the 990s and the first decades of the 11th century. What may be part of a Danegeld has been found submerged in a creek in Södra Betby in Södermanland, Sweden. At the location, there is also a runestone with the text: "[. ] raise the stone in memory of Jôrundr, his son, who was in the west with Ulfr, Hákon's son."   It is not unlikely that the voyage westwards is connected with the English silver treasure.  Other runestones are more explicit with the Danegelds. Ulf of Borresta who lived in Vallentuna travelled westwards several times,  as reported on the Yttergärde Runestone:
And Ulfr has taken three payments in England. That was the last that Tosti paid. Then Þorketill paid. Then Knútr paid.  
Tosti may have been the Swedish chieftain Skoglar Tosti who is otherwise only mentioned by Snorri Sturluson in Heimskringla and who Snorri reports to have been a "great warrior" who "was out for long periods of time on war expeditions". Þorketill was Thorkell the Tall, one of the most famous Viking chieftains, and who often stayed in England. Knútr is no one else but Canute the Great, who became king of England in 1016. 
Canute sent home most of the Vikings who had helped him conquer England, but he kept a strong bodyguard, the Þingalið. It was considered to be a great honour to be part of this force, and, on the Häggeby Runestone in Uppland, it is reported that Geiri "sat in the Assembly's retinue in the west",   and the Landeryd Runestone mentions Þjalfi "who was with Knútr".   Some Swedish Vikings wanted nothing else but to travel with Danes such as Thorkell and Canute the Great, but they did not make it to their destinations. Sveinn, who came from Husby-Sjuhundra in Uppland, died when he was half-way to England, as explained on the runestone that was raised in his memory: "He died in Jútland. He meant to travel to England".   Other Vikings, such as Guðvér did not only attack England, but also Saxony, as reported by the Grinda Runestone in Södermanland: 
|Grjótgarðr (and) Einriði, the sons made (the stone) in memory of (their) able father. Guðvér was in the west divided (up) payment in England manfully attacked townships in Saxony.  |
There are in total about 30 runestones that tell of people who went to England,  see the England Runestones. Some of them are very laconic and only tell that the Viking was buried in London, or in Bath, Somerset. 
Swedish men who travelled to Denmark, England, or Saxony and the Byzantine Empire played an important part in the introduction of Christianity in Sweden,  and two runestones tell of men baptized in Denmark, such as the runestone in Amnö, which says "He died in christening robes in Denmark."   A similar message is given on another runestone in Vallentuna near Stockholm that tells that two sons waited until they were on their death beds before they converted: "They died in (their) christening robes."   Christening robes or baptismal clothes, hvitavaðir, were given to pagan Scandinavians when they were baptized, and in Uppland there are at least seven stones that tell of convertees having died in such robes.  
The language used by the missionaries appears on several runestones, and they suggest that the missionaries used a rather uniform language when they preached.  The expression "light and paradise" is presented on three runestones, of which two are located in Uppland and a third on the Danish island Bornholm. The runestone U 160 in Risbyle says "May God and God's mother help his spirit and soul grant him light and paradise."   and the Bornholm runestone also appeals to Saint Michael: "May Christ and Saint Michael help the souls of Auðbjôrn and Gunnhildr into light and paradise."  
Christian terminology was superimposed on the earlier pagan, and so Paradise substituted Valhalla, invocations to Thor and magic charms were replaced with Saint Michael, Christ, God, and the Mother of God.  Saint Michael, who was the leader of the army of Heaven subsumed Odin's role as the psychopomp, and led the dead Christians to "light and paradise".  There are invocations to Saint Michael on one runestone in Uppland, one on Gotland, on three on Bornholm and on one on Lolland. 
There is also the Bogesund runestone that testifies to the change that people were no longer buried at the family's grave field: "He died in Eikrey(?). He is buried in the churchyard."  
Other types of runestones
Another interesting class of runestone is rune-stone-as-self promotion. Bragging was a virtue in Norse society, a habit in which the heroes of sagas often indulged, and is exemplified in runestones of the time. Hundreds of people had stones carved with the purpose of advertising their own achievements or positive traits. A few examples will suffice:
- : "Vigmund had this stone carved in memory of himself, the cleverest of men. May God help the soul of Vigmund, the ship captain. Vigmund and Åfrid carved this memorial while he lived." : “Östman Gudfast’s son made the bridge, and he Christianized Jämtland”
- Dr 212: "Eskill Skulkason had this stone raised to himself. Ever will stand this memorial that Eskill made” : “Jarlabanki had this stone put up in his own lifetime. And he made this causeway for his soul’s sake. And he owned the whole of Täby by himself. May God help his soul.”
Other runestones, as evidenced in two of the previous three inscriptions, memorialize the pious acts of relatively new Christians. In these, we can see the kinds of good works people who could afford to commission runestones undertook. Other inscriptions hint at religious beliefs. For example, one reads:
- : “Ulvshattil and Gye and Une ordered this stone erected in memory of Ulv, their good father. He lived in Skolhamra. God and God's Mother save his spirit and soul, endow him with light and paradise.”
Although most runestones were set up to perpetuate the memories of men, many speak of women, often represented as conscientious landowners and pious Christians:
- : “Sigrid, Alrik’s mother, Orm’s daughter made this bridge for her husband Holmgers, father of Sigoerd, for his soul”
as important members of extended families:
- Br Olsen215: “Mael-Lomchon and the daughter of Dubh-Gael, whom Adils had to wife, raised this cross in memory of Mael-Muire, his fostermother. It is better to leave a good fosterson than a bad son”
and as much-missed loved ones:
- : “Gunnor, Thythrik’s daughter, made a bridge in memory of her daughter Astrid. She was the most skilful girl in Hadeland.”
The only existing Scandinavian texts dating to the period before 1050  (besides a few finds of inscriptions on coins) are found amongst the runic inscriptions, some of which were scratched onto pieces of wood or metal spearheads, but for the most part they have been found on actual stones.  In addition, the runestones usually remain in their original form  and at their original locations,  and so their importance as historical sources cannot be overstated. 
The inscriptions seldom provide solid historical evidence of events and identifiable people but instead offer insight into the development of language and poetry, kinship, and habits of name-giving, settlement, depictions from Norse paganism, place-names and communications, Viking as well as trading expeditions, and, not least, the spread of Christianity.  Though the stones offer Scandinavian historians their main resource of information concerning early Scandinavian society, not much can be learned by studying the stones individually. The wealth of information that the stones provide can be found in the different movements and reasons for erecting the stones, in each region respectively. Approximately ten percent of the known runestones announce the travels and deaths of men abroad. These runic inscriptions coincide with certain Latin sources, such as the Annals of St. Bertin and the writings of Liudprand of Cremona, which contain valuable information on Scandinavians/Rus' who visited Byzantium. 
Exploring the Swedish Runestones
Runestones have long held a fascination for me because of my Viking blood (my father is from Sweden) and because they are some of the only remaining, visible, above-ground remnants of early Scandinavian history. Several years ago my sister and I taught ourselves the runes (the Elder Futhark), and we used them to write each other secret messages. But with as many times as I've been to Sweden in the past, I've never seen more than a couple lonely runestones standing by the road. My last trip to Sweden though was very different. This time, I was hunting them!
I was in Sweden on vacation with Ben and my parents in June of 2015 and the four of us were driving to visit Skokloster Castle, located on Lake Malaren between Uppsala and Stockholm. I was excited because it was a castle I had never been to before, and castles happen to be one of my favorite things (Sing it, Julie Andrews!). I was looking eagerly out the window when I saw a runestone flash past. And then another. And another! In the span of about 15 minutes we had passed several of them just standing by the road and signs for more that were set back in the forest. I begged if we could stop and see them all on the way back and everyone agreed.
Coming out of the castle after our tour, we wandered over to the associated church built atop a small hill. Seeing a funny shaped stone jutting out of the side of the hill, I made my way over to it and was astonished to find myself staring at a runestone. It had a large cross carved in the runes, so I guessed it was from the 10th or 11th century when Norse leaders began converting to Christianity, which would explain why the church kept it. There is just something about those weathered stones with their asymmetrical shapes and fading red, exotic letters that feels magical to me. There were two others in the churchyard that we spent some time looking at, trying (unsuccessfully) to decode.
The first runestone we saw in the churchyard
of Skokloster Castle.
The church wall was built around this runestone.
When back in the car, we followed a sign on the road that led to what they called a rune boulder. We parked in a dirt clearing in the middle of the forest road, and it was not at all obvious where we were supposed to go. Making a guess, we followed a narrow trail that led into the forest, which was heavily overgrown and looked like nobody had been there for years. After walking for ten minutes and seeing nothing, I began to wonder if we were in the wrong place. And, as we were being eaten alive by the despicable Swedish mosquitos (I think they are more active and more evil than American mosquitos), I wondered if we should turn back. We finally came to a small clearing where we found a boulder the size of a car all covered in moss. We walked around it to see the back and were awed to find runic inscriptions that covered the entire surface! The carvings were heavily eroded but the sheer size and scope of the work was unbelievably impressive.
The next runestone we visited was just standing there on the side of the road in an open meadow. This one was amazing, it was much more complete and much taller than the ones we had seen so far. My dad (who also loves history and who is brilliant) and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to read the runes, but couldn't make anything out. I should explain, the runic alphabet is a phonetic one, and when I learned the signs I applied them to English sounds. I can get by in Swedish and my dad is fluent, but the runes were written in Old Norse, which is very different from the modern Swedish language. It was almost impossible for us to match the runes with their phonetic sounds but we had a wonderful time studying the stone and trying to make sense of it.
My dad and I trying to read the translation of
the boulder runestone.
With my dad at a beautiful runestone on
the side of the road.
The next runestone we passed by was also just off the road, but it was on top of a grassy mound (undoubtedly a burial mound). The placard explained that the stone was originally found, broken, several meters away in the 1800's, but the restorers assumed the two were related so they put the stone on top of the mound. Now we know it most likely never belonged on the top, since there is not a single example in Scandinavia (to my knowledge) of a runestone being placed atop a burial mound. We climbed up to see the stone up close, accompanied by a cat that showed up out of nowhere. Despite being fragmented, the stone was beautiful with vibrant red paint in the runes. The red paint is restoration work: Analyses have shown that the runes were originally painted, either in white, black, or red, and modern restorers have chosen the red to make the runes stand out. Excitingly, this was the first and only runestone where my dad and I could match some of the runic characters to the translation on the placard! I felt just like a small Viking child first learning to read.
The last runestone we saw that day was on a small cliff just off a busy road. This one was unbelievably tall and skinny, and in good condition despite some surface breakage near the base. The translation on the placard was fascinating. The stone was raised as a memorial to several people who had died while on an expedition abroad. This was really interesting, historically speaking, since we all know what Viking "expeditions abroad" were like.
A fragmented runestone atop a grassy hill.
Ben and I by the final runestone of the day.
That was easily one of my favorite and most memorable adventures that I've had in Sweden. Living in the young United States it seems magical to come across obscure 1000-year old historic objects just by looking out the window of a car. Sweden's laws regarding the stones are really interesting, in that they are almost never moved from their original spot. If a runestone stands on private land, the landowner is required to leave the stone standing, even if it's in the middle of their plow field. So the heritage and memory of the runestones are protected across the country, and that's why you can see them dotting the landscape in the most random places. Those stones gave me such a visceral sense of the past and the world they represent. Just by being close to them I could almost imagine life as it was in the Viking Age, and it's definitely a world I want to get closer to.
In Sweden recently archaeologists were monitoring some backhoe work near an old church at Hagby in the Uppland district. A large stone emerged, which when cleaned off turned out to be a Viking runestone.
This particular runestone had once been well known, as this 17th-century woodcut shows. But in the 1830s Hagby Church was rebuilt, and the stone was lost.
I confess that I have been reading about Viking runestones for 25 years but until now I never knew that some of the carvers signed their work.
Here is another of Fot's works, with false color added to make the design stand out.
Rare 1,000-Year-Old Viking Runestone Found in Sweden
A 1,000-year-old runestone was found in Sweden in October 2018 during renovation of a stone wall outside of a church north of Uppsala. Runes are the oldest existing original works of writing in Scandinavia.
“We found it when the wall was broken down and put back together,” Robin Lucas, archaeologist at the Uppland Museum, told The Local. “It’s from the classic runestone-erecting period of the 11th century.”
Runes can be found all over Scandinavia, especially in Sweden’s Uppland province. They are stones carved with runic inscriptions dating from anywhere from the Bronze Age to the 20th century. But most of Sweden’s runestones date from the end of the Viking Age, or the 11th century AD.
The Lingsberg Runestone, Sweden, known as U 240. Photo by Berig CC BY 2.5
Runestones were primarily memorials to dead relatives or friends. But they should not be confused with grave markers.
The Local said four runes can be seen on the discovered stone – “an ua” – but most of the inscriptions are missing from the fragment. Neither word is complete, but can potentially be read as “… he was…” or “… he has become”.
This runestone stands out as unusual because it was made of limestone.
The runes IKURA, or Ingvar, on runestone
“Runestones made of limestone are very rare in Uppland. Usually, granite dominates. In areas with a lot of limestone, such as Gotland and Öland, it is more common. But limestone does exist in Uppland in small pockets, so it may very well be from around here,” said Lucas.
Only one piece of runestone made of limestone has so far been found in the area, also at Lena Church many years ago. Archaeologists believe the two fragments come from the same stone.
The first fragment, which has been tentatively dated to the late 11th or early 12th century, reads: “… Åsbjörn and… land. May God deceive those who failed him.”
“That is a curious formulation,” said Lucas in an interview. “Most runestones are from Christian origin, just like these ones. They usually say things like ‘praise the Lord,’ so it is quite uncommon to use a stone like that to ask for vengeance.”
According to the Swedish National Heritage Board, there are about 7,000 runic inscriptions in the world, of which half are Viking Age runestones.
Sometimes the runic inscription is read from left to right, sometimes from right to left.
The poem Hávamál, presented as a single poem in the Codex Regius, says that Odin discovered runes when he hung himself from the world tree Yggdrasil in order to learn wisdom.
He hung on the tree for nine nights and days. Just as he was about to die, he discovered the runes, grabbed them, and earned his life.
A more down-to-earth explanation is that the runes were inspired by the Latin alphabet.
Codex Regius and Flateyjarbók (open).
According to Real Scandinavia, many runestones remain where they were apparently originally placed, although others have been moved to new locations.
There is even a runestone set in the foundation of a house at the intersection of Kåkbrinken and Prästgatan in Stockholm’s Old Town, the stone having been reused as building material in an age when its archaeological value was less appreciated than today.
Rök Runestone. Photo by Bengt Olof ÅRADSSON CC By 1.0
The longest known runic inscription (nearly 800 characters) is found on Rökstenen (the Rök Stone) in Östergötland. Raised in the 9th century A.D., Rökstenen’s text begins: “In memory of Vämod stand these runes / But Varin wrote them, in memory of his dead son….”
Runes continued to appear in many places, from church doors to everyday objects, through the Middle Ages and even beyond in places such as Gotland and Dalarna.
Some people believe runes also served a magical or divining purpose. Tacitus thought that when Germanic people took auspices, they read signs through the use of runes.
Viking Memorial Deciphered by Runologist
The runologist, an expert in the runic alphabet, was able to read some of the text carved into the stone. He deciphered the runes, which are purported to say “Gärder raised this stone after Sigdjärv's father, Ögärd's husband,” reports the Archaeology News Network . It is believed that the stone was erected in a rich settlement as silver has been unearthed in the locality in the past.
Many runestones are memorials to the dead. Their inscriptions are carved onto stone or boulders, and the runestones were once brightly painted. Often they were erected to dead Vikings who had died on expeditions or in foreign wars. “The stone was thus erected as a memory of a deceased, in an important place where it could be seen by others in the countryside,” reports the Västerviks Museum Facebook Page. The runologist identified a cross in the center of the stone and this indicated that it was used to memorialize someone who had deceased.