Li’s Gravestones: Raised in Memory of the Long Forgotten Dead
Standing stones - monuments from long-vanished prehistoric societies - can be seen throughout the world. One of the most remarkable sets of standing stones in Northern Europe is situated on a gravel ridge in Fjaras Bracka, Sweden. Known as Li’s gravestones, they date from the Iron Age and later, and visitors can explore the fascinating prehistoric past outside a museum.
Why Was So Much Effort Put Into Raising the Stones?
The stones, sometimes known in academic circles as menhir, are set on a gravel elevation that overlooks a modern road, and they cover an area of several acres. It is a stark landscape created by retreating glaciers and is located not far from the western coast of Sweden.
There are at present some 100 standing stones on the ridge. It is believed that once there were over 200 stones, but many were used by local people for construction projects down the centuries. The stones range in size from one meter (3 feet) to five meters (15 feet). The standing stones were set in the ground at some depth which enabled them to withstand countless storms and winds. Some may have once been square while others may have been pointed. There are also believed to be some burial mounds in the area.
The Enigmatic History of Li’s Gravestones
The stones are known as Li’s Gravestones and no one really knows why as little is known about the history of the site. In fact, not many local people in Halland are even aware of this significant area.
Similar standing stones – Oland, Sweden ( Fotolia)
The stones could have been used to mark a place of assembly but raising them would have required a great deal of labor and other resources, so it seems probable that they are the memorials for members of the elite - possibly local chieftains, monarchs, and rulers.
They are believed to date from the late Iron Age and the Viking Age and would likely have been raised in memory of those who died there in the distant past as local societies raised stones to memorialize their loved ones, an innate human need. Although any engravings are almost impossible to decipher because they are so weathered, the stones would have been covered in symbols or runes.
One of the most remarkable standing stones is the one known as Frodestenen, or ‘Frode’s Stone’. This is one of the largest at the sites and stands nearly 5 meters (15 feet) tall, but before a piece of it broke off at some point in the past, it was even taller. It is named after a legendary king called Frode who is mentioned in the Icelandic sagas . It is certainly not the gravestone of this mythical king, and the identity of the person or persons buried here is unknown.
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Frodestenen ( CC BY 4.0 )
Excavations at the Li Gravestones site have uncovered human bones and artifacts such as bronze and iron weapons. It is clear that the site was used for many centuries.
Bauta Stones – Recording the Heroic Death of the Warrior
The stones are traditionally known in Sweden as Bauta stones and they appear to have played a crucial role in the funerary practices of the people who lived in the locality until the advent of Christianity. They were erected in the Viking age to honor fallen warriors and powerful war leaders. It seems that the warriors were cremated, and the stone was set-up as grave markers. According to medieval Norse poetry, they marked the dead’s achievements and heroic death. Many of the stones pre-date the Viking civilization and why they were erected in this era is a matter of speculation. However, given that weapons were found at the site, it may be that the Vikings simply continued the practice of honoring fallen warriors from earlier societies.
The Location of the Mysterious Li’s Gravestones
They are situated south of the second city in Sweden Gothenburg and they are located just outside Fjaras Bracka, Kungsbacka. While the area is recognized as historically important there are no amenities for visitors and even finding a parking space can be difficult. The area is a nature reserve and there are many great walks, trails with views in the area.
Top image: Li’s gravestones at Fjärås Bräcka Source: ( Kattegat Route )
By Ed Whelan
The Poetic Edda, by Henry Adams Bellows. 1936.
Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/index.htm
Price, N.2008. Dying and the dead: Viking Age mortuary behavior . The Viking World 257-73
Available at: https://books.google.ie/books?hl=en&lr=&id=wuN-AgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA257&dq=viking+age+burial+practices&ots=4BfbWi0JqE&sig=OvYVpo_iqo60VAgTQfY_eh56IiY&redir_esc=y>.
Sanmark, A. and Semple, S.J. 2008. Places of assembly: new discoveries in Sweden and England . Fornvännen ., 103(4), pp.245-259
Available at: http://dro.dur.ac.uk/5905/