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Norwegian rune stones

Various things have happened to rune stones in Norway over the course of history. Here are some examples from the lives of three famous rune stones, now in the collections of the Museum of Cultural History.

The Galteland stone

The Galteland stone (museum no. C7538). Photo: James E. Knirk, Museum of Cultural History

The Galteland stone from Evje in Agder is a memorial commissioned by a father after his son. The inscription (N 184 in the corpus edition) says: “Arnsteinn erected this stone in memory of Bjórr his son who died in the retinue when Knútr attacked England. God is one”. The reference to the Danish king Knútr the Great and the battle in England shows that the monument was made around 1020. The stone was standing on its spot at Evjemoen in the 1600s when Bishop Thomas C. Wegner made a drawing and recorded the inscription. His manuscript was sent to historian Ole Worm in Denmark. The Runic Archives of the Museum of Cultural History – that contain documentation and research materials on Norwegian runic inscriptions – have a copy of this first known record of the stone.

In the late 1700s the stone was moved to the Galteland farm and somehow lost its top with the words “Knútr attacked England”. Descriptions and drawings from the early nineteenth century show the rest of the inscription intact. The local parson Poul Lassen examined the stone in the years 1819-21. He had the stone laid down and another part broke off. In the 1850s the pieces of the stone were used in building a chimney on the farm. It took some years before the antiquarians in Christiania (present-day Oslo) learned about what had happened. The chimney was taken down in 1875. Seven recovered fragments were sent to the University Museum of National Antiquities (now Kulturhistorisk museum).

A reconstruction of the Galteland stone was made in the 1990s, after which the stone was set up in a new exhibition at the museum. The head of the Runic Archives at the time, James E. Knirk has written about the history of the Galteland stone and the reconstruction work in an article published in the yearbook of the museum in 1995-96. Materials in the archives shed light on this work. The Galteland stone remains an important historical record relating of Viking raids to the west. The stone may become part of the future exhibitions at the new Viking Age museum in 2025.  

The Alstad stone

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The Alstad stone (museum no. C22007). Photo: Ann Christine Eek, Museum of Cultural History

The second example is the Alstad stone from Alstad farm, Toten, Oppland. Today the stone is on display at the medieval exhibition of the Historical museum. The Alstad stone is in essence a recycled memorial. It bears two commemorative inscriptions: one from around the beginning of the eleventh century, the other some 50-70 years younger. The main faces of the stone are richly ornamented.

The older text (N 61) informs: “Jórunnr erected this stone in memory of …, who was her husband, and (she) brought (it) from Hringaríki, from Ulfey. And may the picture-stone honour both of them”. The younger one (N 62) tells about a man who died during a journey eastwards: “Engli erected this stone in memory of Þóraldr, his son, who died in Vitaholmr – between Ustaholmr and Garðar”. The first inscription fills one of the narrow sides of the stone, it continues along the left edge of one of its broad faces. The second inscription is organised as three horizontal lines underneath the pictures on the same side.

The top of the Alstad stone is damaged, and its surface has many small holes – probably resulting from arrow shots. Other traces are left from sharpening knives or swords. In the nineteenth century a building stock fell on the stone and caused further damage. Parts of the older inscription are especially weathered now.

The Dynna stone

The Dynna stone (museum no. C9909). Eirik Irgens Johnsen, Museum of Cultural History 

Our third example is the Dynna stone from Dynna farm, Gran in Hadeland, raised during the first half of the eleventh century. The stone was first mentioned in the work by Ole Worm in 1643. In the eighteenth century the stone was moved onto the farm site. At present, it is the centrepiece of the new VÍKINGR exhibition in the Historical museum.

The text along the narrow side on the right relates that this is a memorial that one mother set up after her daughter (N 68): “Gunnvǫr, Þryðríkr's daughter, made a bridge in memory of her daughter Ástríðr. She was the handiest maid in Hadeland”. The stone sheds light on the process of Christianisation – a message communicated by text and images. The pictures on the front side depict scenes from the birth of Christ.  

The Dynna stone has suffered damages similar to the Alstad stone. The top is damaged, and its surface has various small holes and marks. Someone has even carved their initials and the year 1875 inside one of the pictorial motifs on the front.

The Galteland, Alstad and Dynna stones once stood on farm sites and told their stories about the memorial traditions of different families. These and other rune stones in Norway and Scandinavia take us back to the times when they were first erected. At the same time, they highlight other events that have taken place during their existence, and new stories are being created through their meetings with present-day audiences.

By Tea Kristiansen, Kristel Zilmer
Published July 1, 2020 9:38 AM - Last modified July 1, 2020 10:15 AM