The Quick 10: 10 Interesting Runestones

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To me, runestones sound like something you find in the World of Warcraft or Harry Potter or something. Indiana Jones, maybe. But that shows how little I know about history, because runestones are real artifacts- stones with runic inscriptions. Forgive me if you guys already know this, but I didn't, so here's the definition of "runic": "A set of related alphabets using letters known as runes to write various Germanic languages prior to the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter."

Now that we've got all of the explanations out of the way, here are ten of the world's most interesting runestones.

10 Interesting Runestones

1. Björketorp Runestone. This runestone in Blekinge, Sweden, is as old as 500 A.D. and is supposedly cursed. Here's what the runes say:
A. Haidz runo runu, falh'k hedra ginnarunaz. Argiu hermalausz, ... weladauþe, saz þat brytz. (I, master of the runes, conceal here runes of power. Incessantly plagued by maleficence, doomed to insidious death is he who breaks this monument.
B. Uþarba spa. (I prophesy destruction)

Supposedly a man tried to remove the stone once to improve his farmland. With the help of some wood, he set the stone on fire to hopefully heat it up and crack it with water. Just as he lit the fire, a wind sprouted up from nowhere and turned the flames on him. He died; the stone was fine.

2. The Jelling Stones. These are two huge stones found in Denmark and dates back to the 10 century(ish). The oldest one was erected by King Gorm the Old in memory of his wife; the other one was commissioned by King Gorm's son, Harald Bluetooth, to honor his parents, to celebrate his triumph over Denmark and Norway, and to commemorate how he converted the Danes to Christianity. I know you're wondering, and yes, the Bluetooth technology is named after Harald Bluetooth. The Bluetooth logo is actually the Nordic runes for H and B.

3. The Stentoften Runestone. This one is also from Blekinge, Sweden, and contains another curse. When it was found in 1823, it was facedown in the ground with five sharp stones forming a pentagram around it. It was moved to a church in 1864. The runes say this, roughly, which sounds a lot like the first curse: "Dwellers (and) guests Haþuwulfar gave ful year, Hariwulfar ... ... I, master of the runes conceal here nine bucks, nine stallions, Haþuwulfar gave fruitful year, Hariwulfar ... ... I, master of the runes conceal here runes of power. Incessantly (plagued by) maleficence, (doomed to) insidious death (is) he who this breaks." However, since they are from the same region and roughly the same time period, maybe it was a common inscription.

4. England Runestones. These are kind of like a scavenger hunt all over Sweden. They are a group of 30 runestones that tell stories of Viking Age journeys to England. One of the stones, for example, says, "Grjótgarðr (and) Einriði, the sons, made (the stone) in memory of (their) able father. Guðvér was in the west; divided payment in England; manfully attacked townships in Saxony."

5. Piraeus Lion Why not a runestone shaped like a lion? It used to be a famous landmark in Piraeus and stood there since the first century. The port there was actually called Porto Leone by the Italians because of this famous statue (although it may have been a fountain). Sometime in the 11th century, it is thought that Scandinavian mercenaries "defaced" it by adding the runes. The runes have faded away quite a bit, so some guesswork has been done to try to decipher the runes. One suggested translation is this: "They cut him down in the midst of his forces. But in the harbor the men cut runes by the sea in memory of Horsi, a good warrior. The Swedes set this on the lion. He went his way with good counsel, gold he won in his travels. The warriors cut runes, hewed them in an ornamental scroll. Askell and others and Porleifr had them well cut, they who lived in Roslagen cut these runes. Ulfr colored them in memory of Horsi. He won gold in his travels."

6. Leif Eriksson runestone. All runestones found in the U.S. have had their authenticity questioned; this one is no different. In 1926, the owner of Noman's Island (a play on "No Man's"; it's about three miles from Martha's Vineyard) spotted a black rock by the water's edge with weird lettering on it. The stone was photographed in 1927 and the owner and the photographer somehow managed to decipher "Leif Eriksson, 1001". Even then, professors had serious doubts about the stone "“ for instance, Roman numerals were used for numbers, but Roman numerals weren't used for dating in Scandinavia until long after Leif Eriksson's time. Supposedly the stone is still on the island somewhere, but the island is extremely dangerous to visit.

7. The Lingsberg Runestones.

These are particularly pretty, I think. They are 11th century and were made by the same family "“ at least, two of them were. There's a little fragment of one that has been difficult to research. The first two, though, honor family members. The first one says, "Danr and Húskarl and Sveinn and Holmfríðr, the mother and sons, had this stone erected in memory of Halfdan, the father of Danr and his brothers; and Holmfríðr in memory of her husbandman."
The second says, "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."

8. The Heavener Runestone. Found in Heavener, Oklahoma, this stone is so popular that a state park has been erected around it. Locals say the inscription comes from Norsemen, but Scandinavian runologists say there's no way and say it was made as recently as the 19th or 20th century. One other interpretation is that the inscription is a cryptogram that marks the grave of French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.

9. Serkland runestones. These are interesting because each of these stones mention voyages to Serkland, which is the Old Norse name for Muslim areas. They are Varangian Runestones, which talk about all of the travels undertaken by the Vikings. Those guys really got around "“ Varangian Runestones make reference to Greece, Italy, England and locations scattered along the Baltic Sea.

10. The Eggja stone There are only 33 surviving Runestones in all of Norway, so you can imagine how excited historians were when this one was ploughed up on a farm in 1917. It's dated to 650-700 A.D. and served as a grave marker. Only a few of the runes have been translated, but due to the metrical form it's written it, scholars think the words are a protection for the grave.

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June 20, 2008 - 10:29am
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