Runestone Discovered in Sweden Provides Window Into Viking Past
While plowing a field on his family farm in Småland, southern Sweden, Lennart Larsson came across a large stone. Larsson put the stone, which is 6 feet high (2 m) and 3 feet wide (1 m), to one side and planned to use it as a stepping stone for a new staircase in his home. After finishing a day of plowing, he checked the stone again and to his amazement “on the underside of the stone were runes!” reports the Nattidningen Svensk Historia. The farmer and his family contacted the local Västerviks Museum about the runestone, who then inspected the discovery. Runestones are invaluable to researchers as they are windows into the Viking past. The artifact is expected to provide insights into a crucial period when the old Viking world was giving way to a new Christian world.
The runologist, Magnus Källström from the Swedish National Heritage Board, studies the newly discovered Viking runestone. (Ingemar Lundgren / Västervik Museum)
1000-Year-Old Runestone: An Incredible Find
The find was made in an area which was important during the Viking Age. “An incredible find! But we're not really surprised,” explains archaeologist Veronica Palm in Nattidningen Svensk Historia. There have been important archaeological finds in the area in the past, including a Viking burial ground. The local museum contacted a national expert in runes and ancient languages. According to Nattidningen Svensk Historia, runologist Magnus Källström from the National Heritage Board examined the find and claims “that it has been many years since a completely unknown runestone was found.”
What is remarkable about the stone is its condition, despite it being dated to the 10 th and 11 th century AD. Palm is quoted by Archaeology News Network as saying that the object “must have fallen over a long time ago because the field has been in use for a long time.” The runestone was found upside down in the soil. It was sheer luck that the farmer’s plow hit it without damaging it.
The 11 th century Viking runestone includes an ancient inscription which has opened a window onto another era, and even evidences a female name unknown until now. (Ingemar Lundgren / Västervik Museum)
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.
Runestone Discovery Identifies New Viking Name
The runestone tradition emerged in the 5 th century AD. By the 10 th century, the stones began to show the influence of Christianity. This is evident on this stone, which is written in the traditional runic script but also contains Christian imagery. Källström told Nattidningen Svensk Historia that the stone was erected at a time “when older traditions met Christian ideals.”
Runestones allow experts to understand the lives and deaths of people from the Viking era. The stone has allowed experts to identify a new female name: Ögärd. According to the Archaeology News Network, archaeologist Veronica Palme claims “it is an interesting female name, Ögärd, it has not been seen before.”
The Rök Runestone is known for featuring the longest stone runic inscription. It is located in Östergötland in Sweden. (Xauxa Håkan Svensson / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Sweden’s Rich Runestone Tradition
Sweden has a rich runestone tradition. While the majority of these memorials have been found in this Scandinavian country, they have also been found as far away as Ireland. The tradition died out as the Kingdom of Sweden grew in power and became steadily Christianized. Archaeology News Network reports that “the Rök stone in Rök in Östergötland is one of the most famous rune stones. With its 760 characters, its inscription is considered to be the world's longest runic inscription.” Typically, the stones were erected as single monuments. Interestingly they were often moved by later generations and this has been interpreted as an attempt by local people to preserve the runestones and indicates their respect for their ancestors.
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Local officials in Kalmar will now clean and preserve the runestone. On their Facebook page, the Västerviks Museum states that their “ambition is that it should be set up again at Hellerö, but since it has an old crack, it must be properly secured.” Remarkably this is not the first find that has been made on the Larson farm. They also unearthed a selection of Viking silver coins and an armband in 2006. Who knows what other treasures may lie hidden underneath the fields of this Swedish family farm?
Top image: The Viking runestone was discovered by a farmer in southern Sweden when plowing his field. Source: Ingemar Lundgren / Västervik Museum
By Ed Whelan