Per Widerström called me today and told me he’d just found a picture stone. This is breaking news, mainstream media not yet alerted. Photographs courtesy of the finder, and I hope to get some shots in horizontal lighting too where the relief scenes will be visible.
Scandinavian 1st Millennium art isn’t very rich in figural scenes, focusing more on abstract or heavily stylised decorative motifs. But the picture stones of Gotland form an exception. Starting in the 5th century and surviving into the 12th, this tradition offers a rare peek into the mythology of eastern Scandinavia, far from the Norwegian coast where the Icelandic literature originated. Lovely, lovely stuff.
Per found the new stone during a watching brief in Stenkyrka churchyard, north of the church, where it lay buried face-down near the surface. There was no sign of any foundation stones. The stone’s a little less than two meters tall and features two (?) Viking ships and a number of human figures. Most likely it dates from the 8th or 9th century, and it is unlikely to have been found in its original location. Most such stones are found re-used either in churchyards or in 11th century late pagan graves (as I have discussed in my dissertation, vol. 2, p. 73).
Per and myself talked a little about how bizarre it is that Swedish churchyards (often going back to the 12th or even 11th century) are not registered ancient monuments. Congregations are allowed to continue digging graves there with impunity, constantly wearing away at valuable archaeological source material. In my opinion, they should be required to fund a proper rescue excavation every time they want to dig a grave, or preferably establish a new cemetery in some nearby field that can be machine-stripped and freed from archaeological remains in advance. Such a reform would probably prove impopular among the locals. But they’re too few to pack a lot of democratic punch, mwahaha. Almost everyone lives in cities these days and are buried in cemeteries established in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Per Widerström, by the way, runs a one-man archaeological consultancy firm. He has my heartfelt recommendations.
Here’s an example of what these picture stones can look like once the figural scenes have been made out.