Rök Runestone

Rök Runestone


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Legendary runestone bears witness to climate anxiety 1,200 years ago

Runologist Henrik Williams, Uppsala University, is one of the researchers in the interdisciplinary project on a new interpretation of the famous Rök runestone.

Photograph: Stewen Quigley

After more than 1,000 years, one of the greatest mysteries of the early Viking Age, the Rök runestone which bears the world’s longest runic inscription, appears to have been solved. According to four Swedish researchers, the puzzling inscription hides fears about climate change and forebodings about the end of the world.

The Rök runestone, which is probably the best-known runestone of the Viking Age, has mystified researchers and historians alike for centuries. Now, more than 1,000 years after the stone was raised in the parish of Rök in Östergötland, Sweden, an interdisciplinary group of experts has presented an interpretation that tells of a doomed son, a grieving father and above all anxiety about the climate and an impending natural catastrophe.

&ldquoWe are four researchers who have worked together for two years, and the picture that has gradually emerged out of the meeting between our different academic disciplines &ndash archaeology, the history of religions, runology and the Swedish language &ndash reveals an ageing man&rsquos meditations on his dead son,&rdquo says Henrik Williams, Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University.

The researchers who participated in the analysis of the Rök runestone were:

  • Bo Gräslund, Professor of Archaeology, Uppsala University
  • Per Holmberg, Professor of Swedish, University of Gothenburg (project director)
  • Olof Sundqvist, Professor of History of Religions, Stockholm University
  • Henrik Williams, Professor of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala University

According to the researchers, the text recounts the father&rsquos quest for consolation in the thought that his son, a successful military leader, has been called to Odin to fight at his side at Ragnarök, the final battle that will be followed by the return of the sun and light. The contents are in line with the Old Norse mythology of the time, and when the runestone was created in the early ninth century, the prospect of the world ending was spreading fear in the wake of a series of devastating catastrophes and celestial phenomena for which the people of the time could find no explanation.

&ldquoWe can place the origin of the Rök runestone relatively confidently in time, but fewer than 100 runestones are known from that period. And unlike later runestones, which often have similar contents, the message of these early creations varies, which in general makes them more difficult to interpret,&rdquo explains Professor Williams. &ldquoMoreover, the Rök runestone in particular is inscribed in various forms of codes, which must certainly have made it a challenge even for contemporary readers.&rdquo

Only the select few were intended to understand

The 760 characters of the Rök runestone make it the world&rsquos longest runic inscription. The fact that the inscription names several kings indicates that the family that had it erected belonged to the highest levels of society, and a desire for exclusivity is a likely explanation for its complex structure: only the select few were intended to understand the meaning of the text in full.

As interpreted by the researchers, however, the framework consists of nine riddles, five of which refer to the sun and the remaining four to Odin and his warriors. Professor Williams also points out previously undiscovered links to other Old Norse texts.

&ldquoWe know relatively little about this period. What we do know largely derives from the Icelandic Edda. In my opinion, our work identifies clear parallels with the Edda, which corroborates hypotheses about a shared treasury of mythological tales. Similar finds have been made on Gotland, which date even further back in time, but for me, this is like finding a new literary source from the early Viking Age.&rdquo

Interdisciplinary collaboration

The group&rsquos scholarly feat started out from previous research. Several key contributions came from Professor Bo Ralph, a member of the Swedish Academy, who in 2007 questioned the previously prevailing interpretation that the Rök runestone states that Theodoric the Great died nine generations before its creation. However, according to Professor Williams, it was the interdisciplinary interaction between representatives of different universities that finally produced the key to the 1,200-year-old secret.

&ldquoTaking an impartial approach and using our different skills, we have compiled, analysed and developed existing source materials,&rdquo says Professor Williams. &ldquoAfter exploring several dead ends, by combining forces we reached our goal at last. This is a quite unprecedented approach for runology which has already given us important clues to other Viking Age mysteries, and I am sure we will return to the path we have begun before long.&rdquo


The project studies

The project examines five key analyses that may be necessary for understanding a runic inscription from early Viking Age:
• Analysis of spatiality of the reading act
• Analysis of ideological bias of previous research
• Analysis of the inscription’s intertextuality
• Analysis of the monument’s relations to its landscape
• Analysis of the ”pre-Christian” status of the inscription

Each analysis can profit from cross-disciplinary collaboration, and therefore it is an aim of the project to establish such contacts over disciplinary boarders.


Interpretation: In the same texts cited above, Vithar kills the wolf — restoring the world to balance.

The connection between Odin and the Sun rests on how the local Viking establishment saw themselves, the researchers say. Part of why they maintained control of the region was by appealing to people’s fears of another climate crisis, convincing them that to guarantee a good harvest (i.e. no climate crisis), they had to follow them.

“The powerful elite of the Viking Age saw themselves as guarantors for good harvests. They were the leaders of the cult that held together the fragile balance between light and darkness. And finally at Ragnarök, they would fight alongside Odin in the final battle for the light,” Olof Sundqvist, professor at Stockholm University, said in a statement.

This also comes back to who the Rok stone was actually for. The researchers speculate that it was likely used in funerary or other religious rites.

This is unlikely the last interpretation of the stone’s inscriptions, they say. But it is one of the most comprehensive, and, now, after centuries of intrigue and mystery, the text is available for all us non-Old Norse readers to try and wrap our heads around. What’s your read?


Viking Runestone May Trace Its Roots to Fear of Extreme Weather

Sometime in the early ninth century, an anxious Viking mourning the death of his son began to worry that winter was coming. To cope, he channeled his fears into a wordy essay he then painstakingly chiseled onto the surface of a five-ton slab of granite.

This unusual origin story may be behind the creation of Sweden’s Rök stone, an eight-foot-tall monolith whose enigmatic etchings—which comprise the world’s longest known runic inscription—have puzzled researchers for more than a century. Writing this week in Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies, a team led by Per Holmberg, a scholar of Swedish language at the University of Gothenburg, argues that its text, interpreted as a grieving father’s eulogy of his dead son, may also contain allusions to a broader crisis: an impending period of extreme cold.

These new interpretations don’t refute the paternal tribute or diminish the tragedy of the death itself. But as the authors explain, it may widen the scope of the stone’s broader message.

The Rök stone’s five visible sides are speckled with more than 700 runes, most of which are still intact. The monolith’s text hints that it was raised by a man named Varinn around 800 A.D. to commemorate his recently deceased son Vāmōðʀ. The runes also mention a monarch many suspect was Theodoric the Great, a sixth-century ruler of the Ostrogoths who died in 526, about three centuries prior.

The study’s findings, which drew on previous archaeological evidence, might help make sense of this somewhat anachronistic reference. Shortly after Theodoric’s reign ended, reports Agence France-Presse, a series of volcanic eruptions appear to have plunged what’s now Sweden into a prolonged cold snap, devastating crop fields and prompting starvation and mass extinctions.

Between the years 775 and 810, three anomalies occurred: a solar storm, an especially cool summer, and a near-total solar eclipse. (Public domain)

Between 536 and 550, as much as half the population of the Scandinavian Peninsula may have died, fueling a climatic cautionary tale that likely lingered for many decades after, according to Michelle Lim of CNN. Fittingly, writes Becky Ferreira for Vice, the stone’s inscriptions make reference to “nine generations”—enough to span the 300-year gap.

Shaken by tales of this sixth-century crisis, Varinn may have feared the worst when he witnessed another unnerving event around the time of the Rök stone’s creation. Between the years 775 and 810, three anomalies occurred: a solar storm, an especially cool summer, and a near-total solar eclipse, each of which could have been mistaken as a harbinger of another prolonged cold spell, says study author Bo Graslund, an archaeologist at Uppsala University, in a statement .

To make matters worse, eclipses and intense winters both feature prominently in Norse mythology as potential signs of Ragnarök, a series of events purported to bring about the demise of civilization. Varinn’s concerns, it seems, were more than understandable.

A liberal read of some of the text’s imagery could fall in line with a climatic interpretation as well, the researchers argue. A series of “battles” immortalized on the stone, for instance, may have been a reference not to a clash between armies, but the chaos of climate change.

Plenty of the Rök stone’s mysteries remain unsolved, and future work could still refute this new interpretation. But if Varinn truly did have climate on the brain, his fears about the fragility of the world still ring eerily true today: When severe enough, global change can truly be a “conflict between light and darkness, warmth and cold, life and death.”


Uncovering the Past: Challenging dominant narratives

TWH – This month’s Uncovering the Past reports on two discoveries, both challenge previously held beliefs.

A new interpretation of a runestone seeks to link it to Ragnarök and volcanic winters, beginning in 536 C.E.

Another new interpretation of evidence shows the possible survival of Native American ritual culture well past initial contact with Europeans.

The Rök Runestone

The Rök Runestone is located about halfway between Gothenburg and Stockholm, Sweden. The granite slab, is 2.5 m tall (roughly 8 ft), and weighing approximately five tons, it stands taller than most other runestones. Norse Pagans inscribed those runes around 800 C.E., centuries before Christianity became dominant.

Rök Runestone – Image credit: Bengt Olof ÅRADSSON – CC BY 1.0

Its inscription runs for 28 lines, one of which shows damage. Twenty lines are vertical. Eight are horizontal. About 700 runes are inscribed on the stone. It may be the longest known runic inscription.

Unfortunately, no one knows the order in which someone would read the runes. The text runs in multiple directions and includes cipher runes. The inscription mixes short twig runes with older futhark runes.

Reading directions for the 28 text rows of the Rök Runestone extracted from the source video, by the Swedish National Heritage Board – Image credit: Bengt A Lundberg, Swedish National Heritage Board – CC BY 4.0

Despite 150 years of academic study, no consensus has emerged about its meaning. This new interpretation of Holmberg, Gräslund, Sundqvist, and Williams raises the number of academic interpretations to sixteen.

Holmberg and colleagues’ interpretation links this runestone to Ragnarök. This interpretation also links it to Norse oral traditions, and from those oral traditions, the Eddas and skaldic poetry emerged.

Holmberg and colleagues’ interpretation challenges the dominant narrative, which links the Rök Runestone to Theodoric the Great (454 to 526 C.E.), King of Visigoths and of Italy. Instead, the scholars link the Rök Runestone to the mythic Ragnarök and the long volcanic winters from 536 to 550 C.E.

Several volcanic eruptions beginning in 536 C.E led to extended volcanic winters. Summers were abnormally cold from 536 to 550 C.E. throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Crop failure, disease, and famine would have been frequent. According to Holmberg and colleagues, the population of Scandinavia dropped by 50% during this period.

Holmberg and colleagues describe their interpretation in an article and present the original runic text. It contains a transliteration of those runes into the Roman alphabet. At this point, it is still in Old Norse, then present a translation of that old Norse into English.

After Vāmōðʀ, stand these runes. And Varinn, the father, made them after the death doomed son.

Let us say this as a memory for YggR, which spoils of war, there were two, which twelve times were taken as spoils of war, both from one to another?

This let us say as second, who nine generations ago lost their life with the Hraiðgutaʀ [i.e. in the east] but still decides the matter?

Ride the horse did the bold champion, chief of men, over the shores of the Hraiðsea [i.e. over the eastern horizon]. Now he sits armed on his horse, his shield strapped, foremost of the famous.

Let us say this as a memory for Yggʀ, who because of a howler [i.e. wolf] has suffered through a woman’s sacrifice?

This let us say as twelfth, where the horse of the battle [i.e. the wolf] sees food on the battlefield, where twenty kings lie?

This let us say as thirteenth, which twenty kings were at the Grove of Sparks [i.e. the battlefield] in four directions, of four names, born of four brothers?

Five Valkis, sons of Rāðulfʀ, five Hraiðulfʀs, sons of Rōgulfʀ, five Hāā̃īsls, sons of Haruðʀ, five Gunnmundʀs, sons of Bern. And for Yggʀ a m(emory) …

Let us say a memory for Yggʀ, dare!

[Who is] a protector of sanctuaries for a brother?

[Whom] does the ravager [i.e. the wolf] redden with blood?

Let us say a memory for Yggʀ,

to whom is born an offspring, to the young man! It is not a lie.

[Who] could beat a giant? It is not a lie.

Clash!

The text includes a reference to events nine generations before the inscription. Assuming 30 years per generation, nine generations prior to the inscription would yield a date of 530 C.E. That date lies between the death of Theodoric the Great in 526 and the volcanic eruption of 536 C.E.

The reduced sunlight and cold in Scandinavia from 536 to 550 C.E. would have caused the social organization to change. Holmberg and colleagues reported that society became more stratified and militaristic, with the new elite focused strongly on Odin in his warrior aspect.

Holmberg and colleagues argue that the volcanic winter of 536 to 550 C.E. amplified beliefs about Ragnarök. In the “Vafþrúðnismál,” a period of extreme cold preceded Ragnarök.

Holmberg and colleagues also argue that events from 775 to 810 C.E. had parallels to the volcanic winters of 536 to 550 C.E. In 775 C.E., strong solar storms turned the sky red, and that summer was particularly cold.

An almost total solar eclipse occurred in 810 C.E. A key event in Ragnarök involves the wolf, Fenrir, swallowing the sun. That ingestion could describe solar eclipses and reduced sunlight of the volcanic winter.

These events could have triggered collective memories of the volcanic winters of 536 to 550 C.E. These overtones may have formed the mythic context in which King Varinn tried to make sense of the death of his son, Vāmōðʀ.

New interpretation of the inscription

Like other runestones, this one commemorates a death. Specifically, A father, Varinn, created it for Vāmōðʀ, his “death doomed son.” Holmberg and colleagues described this runestone’s purpose as placing “the death of his son in a meaningful context of eschatological events.” It also reflects the world view of the warrior elite.

Written as a series of memories, it has an elegiac tone. It includes nine enigmatic questions. In the Holmberg and colleagues’ interpretation, five questions concern the sun and four concern Odin.

According to these scholars, the exchange of “the spoils of war” refers to the daily exchange of lunar and solar light.

The inscription refers to the sacrifice of a woman to a wolf. In the myth of Ragnarök, Fenrir attacks the sun who had just given birth to a daughter who becomes the new sun. The woman sacrificed to the wolf would be the old sun who has just given birth. Generally, that is interpreted as the beginning of a new cycle. Holmberg and colleagues interpret it to also mean the return to normal weather after the year-long volcanic winters of 536 to 550.

The twenty kings refer to Odin’s warriors. Vāmōðʀ’s death has meaning as he will join those warriors and fight for Odin in Ragnarök. The inscription ends with a cipher for battle.

If Holmberg and colleagues’s interpretation is correct, it shows ancient Norse Pagan culture adapting to historic events and gradually changing over time.

Cultural Survival of Mound Builder Culture

In an article published in the Cambridge University Press, Jacob Holland-Lulewicz, Victor D. Thompson, James Wettstaed, and Mark Williams have challenged the dominant narrative of the collapse of mound builder culture in the Oconee Valley around 1550 C.E.

Diagram showing the various components of platform mounds constructed by Native Americans in the eastern United States. Image credit: Herb Roe, CC BY-SA 3.0

The dominant narrative relies on the absence of European material goods in the mound complex, except for one glass bead. Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues argue that indigenous people continued to hold rituals on the mound until 1670.

Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues base their challenge on improvements in dating technology and sophisticated statistical modeling. Improved dating techniques show continuous use of the mound up to 1670.

Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues also found parallels from the Dyar Mound with living Muscogee Nation traditions. Descendants of the Oconee mound builders became part of the Muscogee Nation. Current Muscogee ritual practice frequently bans industrial and “tech” products in ritual space. This would explain the absence of European artifacts in the remains of the mound.

The Dyar mound stood in the Oconee Valley of the north-central Piedmont region of Georgia. It had a height of about a three-story building. In the late 70s, archaeologists excavated the mound as part of a salvage operation, since the valley was slated to be flooded to create a reservoir.

The mound now lies under the reservoir. Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues re-analyzed material from that excavation.

Native Americans had built up the Dyar mound over centuries. On its top were two large platforms and a pergola.

A pergola is an Italian word derived from Latin defined in English as a “structure usually consisting of parallel colonnades supporting an open roof of girders and cross rafters.”

One platform had food scraps and cooking fires. The other had clay hearths for simmering liquids. According to Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues, today’s Muscogee Nation people have two foci in their ceremonial space.

Rather than total collapse following first contact with Europeans, Holland-Lulewicz and colleagues argue for a sustained cultural resistance for over 100 years.


The Rök runestone - the longest known runic inscription in stone (transcription in comments). Rök, Östergötland, Sweden. 9th Century CE. [3431x5400]

2

The Rök stone is famous for featuring the longest known runic inscription in stone – 760 characters carved on all five visible sides of the stone.

There are myriad interpretations of this rather mysterious inscription. Apart from the initial, fairly standard “this stone was raised by X, in memory of Y, carved by Z”, the inscription tells a story in a riddle-like manner, some of it using cipher-runes.

The specifics of the story have been the subject of scholarly debate ever since the stone was discovered. Below is a transliteration and interpretation from a paper published in 2020, which interprets the inscriptions as a series of 9 distinct riddles with specific answers from Norse poetry.

Transliteration:

aft uamuþ stąnta runaʀ þaʀ 〈i〉n uarin faþi faþiʀ aft faikiąn sunu sakum uk mini þat huariaʀ ualraubaʀ uaʀin tuaʀ þaʀ suaþ tualf sinum uaʀinumnaʀ t ualraubu baþaʀ sąmąn ą umisumąnum þat sakum ąnart huaʀ fur niu altum ąn urþi fiaru miʀ hraiþkutum auk tumiʀ ąn ub sakaʀ raiþ iau rikʀ hin þurmuþi stiliʀ flutna strąntu hraiþmaraʀ sitiʀ nu karuʀ ą kuta sinum skialti ub fatlaþʀ skati marika sakum uk mini þat huaʀ i kultika uaʀi kultin t kuąnaʀ husli þat sakum tualfta huar histʀ si kunaʀ ituituąki ąn kunukaʀ tuaiʀ tikiʀ suaþ ą likia þat sakum þritaunta huariʀ tuaiʀ tikiʀ kunukaʀ satin t siulunti fiakura uintur at fiakurum nabnum burn〈i〉ʀ fiakurum bruþrum ualkaʀ fim ra͡þulfsuniʀ hraiþulfaʀ fim rukulfsuniʀ hąislaʀ fim haruþs suniʀ kunmuntaʀ fim ḅirnaʀ suniʀ nuk m--- ṃ-- alu --ḳị ainhuaʀ -þ… …þ … × ftiʀ fra akum uk mini þur sibi uiauari ulni ruþʀ sakum uk mini uaim si buriniþʀ trąki uili nis þat knuą knatiatun uili nis þat nit

Interpretation:

After Vamoth stand these runes. And Varin, the father, made them after the death-doomed son.

Let us say this as a memory for Odin, which spoils of war there were two, which twelve times were taken as spoils of war, both from one to another?

This let us say as second, who nine generations ago lost their life in the east but still decides the matter? Ride the horse did the bold champion, chief of men, over the eastern horizon. Now he sits armed on his horse, his shield strapped, foremost of the famous.

Let us say this as a memory for Odin, who because of a wolf has suffered through a woman’s sacrifice?

This let us say as twelfth, where the wolf sees food on the battlefield, where twenty kings lie?

This let us say as thirteenth, which twenty kings were on the vast battlefield, of four names, born of four brothers? Five Valkis, sons of Rathulf, five Hraithulfs, sons of Rogulf, five Haisls, sons of Haruth, five Gunnmunds, sons of Bern. And for Odin a memory . . . (partially unreadable)

Let us say a memory for Odin, dare! [Who is] a protector of sanctuaries for a brother?

[Whom] does the wolf redden with blood?

Let us say a memory for Odin to the young man, to whom is born an offspring? It is not a lie.


The key to these ancient riddles may lie in a father’s love for his dead son

When the Rök runestone was pried from the wall of a small Swedish church more than a century ago, it was heralded as an archaeological marvel. Twice as tall as an adult man and covered in intricately-etched runes, it was the first piece of written literature in Swedish history – and at 760 characters, the longest ever engraved in stone.

The 9th century inscription starts like so many other runestones, with a dedication: "In memory of Vämod stand these runes. And Varinn wrote them, the father, in memory of his dead son."

What follows is line after line of inscrutable riddles, seemingly about ancient figures and sacrifices no one had ever heard of before. The characters of Vämod and Varinn were similarly enigmatic. But the stone was so extraordinary that researchers could only assume it told an extraordinary story. So that's what they went looking for.

A century later, the standard interpretation is a dramatic — if somewhat convoluted — account of heroic feats from history. It includes a Gothic king who famously fought the Romans and long lost fragments of Norse mythology.

" It was a natural thing to think when the researchers began 100 years ago," said Per Holmberg, a linguist at the University of Gothenburg who has studied the runes. The early 20th century was a time of rising nationalism in his country — a climate that lent itself to what Holmberg calls " romantic fantasies" about Swedish origins.

But in trying so hard to find a remarkable origin story for the stone, scholars may have missed its real message, according to Holmberg. In a report in the International Journal of Runic Studies this week, he offers a more modest understanding of the monument.


Legendary runestone bears witness to climate anxiety 1,200 years ago

Runologist Henrik Williams, Uppsala University, is one of the researchers in the interdisciplinary project on a new interpretation of the famous Rök runestone.

Photograph: Stewen Quigley

After more than 1,000 years, one of the greatest mysteries of the early Viking Age, the Rök runestone which bears the world’s longest runic inscription, appears to have been solved. According to four Swedish researchers, the puzzling inscription hides fears about climate change and forebodings about the end of the world.

The Rök runestone, which is probably the best-known runestone of the Viking Age, has mystified researchers and historians alike for centuries. Now, more than 1,000 years after the stone was raised in the parish of Rök in Östergötland, Sweden, an interdisciplinary group of experts has presented an interpretation that tells of a doomed son, a grieving father and above all anxiety about the climate and an impending natural catastrophe.

&ldquoWe are four researchers who have worked together for two years, and the picture that has gradually emerged out of the meeting between our different academic disciplines &ndash archaeology, the history of religions, runology and the Swedish language &ndash reveals an ageing man&rsquos meditations on his dead son,&rdquo says Henrik Williams, Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University.

The researchers who participated in the analysis of the Rök runestone were:

  • Bo Gräslund, Professor of Archaeology, Uppsala University
  • Per Holmberg, Professor of Swedish, University of Gothenburg (project director)
  • Olof Sundqvist, Professor of History of Religions, Stockholm University
  • Henrik Williams, Professor of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala University

According to the researchers, the text recounts the father&rsquos quest for consolation in the thought that his son, a successful military leader, has been called to Odin to fight at his side at Ragnarök, the final battle that will be followed by the return of the sun and light. The contents are in line with the Old Norse mythology of the time, and when the runestone was created in the early ninth century, the prospect of the world ending was spreading fear in the wake of a series of devastating catastrophes and celestial phenomena for which the people of the time could find no explanation.

&ldquoWe can place the origin of the Rök runestone relatively confidently in time, but fewer than 100 runestones are known from that period. And unlike later runestones, which often have similar contents, the message of these early creations varies, which in general makes them more difficult to interpret,&rdquo explains Professor Williams. &ldquoMoreover, the Rök runestone in particular is inscribed in various forms of codes, which must certainly have made it a challenge even for contemporary readers.&rdquo

Only the select few were intended to understand

The 760 characters of the Rök runestone make it the world&rsquos longest runic inscription. The fact that the inscription names several kings indicates that the family that had it erected belonged to the highest levels of society, and a desire for exclusivity is a likely explanation for its complex structure: only the select few were intended to understand the meaning of the text in full.

As interpreted by the researchers, however, the framework consists of nine riddles, five of which refer to the sun and the remaining four to Odin and his warriors. Professor Williams also points out previously undiscovered links to other Old Norse texts.

&ldquoWe know relatively little about this period. What we do know largely derives from the Icelandic Edda. In my opinion, our work identifies clear parallels with the Edda, which corroborates hypotheses about a shared treasury of mythological tales. Similar finds have been made on Gotland, which date even further back in time, but for me, this is like finding a new literary source from the early Viking Age.&rdquo

Interdisciplinary collaboration

The group&rsquos scholarly feat started out from previous research. Several key contributions came from Professor Bo Ralph, a member of the Swedish Academy, who in 2007 questioned the previously prevailing interpretation that the Rök runestone states that Theodoric the Great died nine generations before its creation. However, according to Professor Williams, it was the interdisciplinary interaction between representatives of different universities that finally produced the key to the 1,200-year-old secret.

&ldquoTaking an impartial approach and using our different skills, we have compiled, analysed and developed existing source materials,&rdquo says Professor Williams. &ldquoAfter exploring several dead ends, by combining forces we reached our goal at last. This is a quite unprecedented approach for runology which has already given us important clues to other Viking Age mysteries, and I am sure we will return to the path we have begun before long.&rdquo


Enigmatic Message Etched on the Most Famous Viking Monument Deciphered

Shutterstock.

A new interpretation of the inscription etched on the so-called Rök runestone, the most famous Viking rune monument, deals with the conflict between light and darkness, heat and cold, life and death.

Several passages etched on the Rök stone – the world’s most famous Viking Age runic monument – imply that the inscription makes reference to great battles and for more than one hundred years, researchers have been trying to connect the writing on the stone with heroic deeds in war.

But what if the legendary inscription has nothing to do with war? What if experts have been wrong all along trying to connect the inscriptions to might battles?

A recent study by an interdisciplinary research team has offered an entirely new interpretation of the inscription etched on the Rök runestone.

The recently-proposed translation suggests the inscription on the stone deals with an entirely different battle: a battle between the darkness and light, warmth and cold, life and death.

The runestone is the most famous monolith of the Viking Age and is thought to have been erected around 800 CE. In addition to being one of the most well-known treasures of the Viking Age, it has proven to be one of the most difficult to understand.

An image of the message etched on the Rok Runestone. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“The key to unlocking the inscription was the interdisciplinary approach. Without these collaborations between textual analysis, archaeology, history of religions and runology, it would have been impossible to solve the riddles of the Rök runestone,” explained Per Holmberg, a professor in Swedish at the University of Gothenburg, who led the study.

The recent paper is based on new archaeological analysis illustrating how badly Scandinavia suffered from an early climate catastrophe which brought lower than average temperatures, bad harvest, poor crops, extensive hunger, and mass extinctions.

According to Bo Gräslund, a professor in Archaeology at Uppsala University, there are various reasons as to why people in the past may have feared a new, climatic catastrophe of this kind.

The researcher details in a new study that before the legendary runestone was erected, carious natural events took place which the people never forgot: powerful solar storms struck the Earth causing the sky to turn into different, unusual and dramatic shades of red. Crop fields eventually suffered from harsh and extensive summers, and solar eclipses were seen as an additional bad omen. These events may have led the people to raise fears of another Fimbulwinter, explains Bo Gräslund.

The recently presented interpretation of the runestone’s inscriptions suggests the message is made out of nine riddles.

The experts have proposed that the answer to five of the nine riddles on the Rok runestone is the Sun.

One of the riddles penned down on the stone asks who was dead but now lives again.

The remaining four riddles etched on the surface of the legendary runestone are about Odin and his mighty warriors.

“The powerful elite of the Viking Age saw themselves as guarantors for good harvests. They were the leaders of the cult that held together with the fragile balance between light and darkness. And finally, at Ragnarök, they would fight alongside Odin in the final battle for the light,” explained Olof Sundqvist, a professor in History of Religions at Stockholm University.


Watch the video: The Rök Runestone with Henrik Williams