Fornvännen’s Winter Issue On-Line

The new version of a slab from the Kivik cairn.

The new version of a slab from the Kivik cairn.

Fornvännen 2015:1 is now on-line on Open Access.

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First Week of 2015 Excavations at Stensö Castle

This year’s first week of fieldwork at Stensö Castle went exceptionally well, even though I drove a camper van belonging to a team member into a ditch. We’re a team of thirteen, four of whom took part in last year’s fieldwork at the site. All except me and co-director Ethan Aines are Umeå archaeology students. We’re excavating the ruin of a castle that flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries. This year we have a very nice base at Smedstad, let to us by the genial B&B host Hans-Ola. But we cook our own meals, each day having its designated cooks and dishwashers, and in the evenings we play boardgames.

The most outstanding result of the first five days’ work is that we found a runic inscription in the mortar on the outside wall of the castle’s south tower in trench E. There are five runes: three complete, one almost complete and one almost obliterated, enough to allow us to read helk(i), the male name spelled Helge in modern Swedish.

Helk(i): a runic inscription found on Stensö's south tower.

Helk(i): a runic inscription found on Stensö’s south tower.

This particular part of the tower wall was obscured by a pile of what we thought might be rubble from the torn-down western range of the perimeter wall. That occasioned the placement of the trench. Last year we found a stump of that wall sticking out of the north tower, and now we wanted to see it join the south one. The pile in trench E, however, turned out to be salvaged building material from when the castle was being quarried, apparently piled up here for removal but then left. There are several such piles in the bailey. We know that this quarrying happened a very long time ago, because the pile was full of neatly stacked re-used Medieval bricks that had crumbled in place. They are poor quality and can’t stand the annual dry-moist-freeze-moist cycle for very long. Since the brick pile was very old, we know that the inscription is even older. My good friend and colleague Christian Lovén judges that the quality of mortar from about AD 1200 is high enough that the inscription may be from the original erection of the south tower as a free-standing kastal structure.

Otherwise trench E has given lots of animal bones and a layer of stones just like in nearby trench B from last year. The stone layer looks like it was put there to raise and level the bailey after the perimeter wall was added. We hoped to get down to the base of the south tower to see what its footing on the bedrock looks like, but to our surprise we found that a deep part of the levelling layer to be sort of cast in concrete: a yellowish, finely laminated yet extremely hard calcareous material that looks like stalagmite. Apparently rainwater is leaching lime out of the south tower’s huge volume of mortar and redepositing it in the ground around the structure, effectively cementing stones together.

schaktplan

We placed trench D along the perimeter wall just north of the east gate because there are depressions there that may have functioned as rainwater basins. I was curious about what this wet environment may have preserved. Wise from last year’s experience of trench C, I laid the trench some ways out from the wall in order to avoid the thickest accumulation of rubble. And though the damp depression hasn’t yielded any macroscopic organics, a culture layer under the rubble has been quite generous with small finds: Hight Medieval Grey Stoneware, Late Medieval Red Ware with orange/green outside glaze, a knife, a whetstone, a strike-a-light, and best of all, a beautifully preserved copper alloy annular brooch. This last piece has a good parallel in the huge and securely dated Tingby in Dörby hoard from c. AD 1200 (thanks to my good friend and Fornvännen colleague Elisabet Regner for this).

Trench F is the badassest one of them all in terms of where it is: we’re digging half of the ground floor layer inside the south tower. Digging a kastal tower is an exclusive pleasure, and Ethan is making sure it’s being done well. Sadly we haven’t found any floor layer earlier than the one we stood on when we came to the site, but the rubble demonstrates clearly how the vaulting has come crashing down and is still in situ. The pottery here is the same Late Medieval ware as in trenches C and D, in addition to which we have two quite different crossbow bolts, a fish hook and other sundries. We’re of course searching eagerly for coins by means of metal detector and soil screening, but so far no luck.

At the foot of the castle hill outside the east gate is a rather flat, gently sloping surface that would be the natural place to land boats if you lived in the castle 700 years ago. Test pits there have so far given very recent waste, but more interestingly, also lots of flaked low-quality brick and mortar lumps. This looks like evidence for how building material was removed from the site during the post-aristocratic quarrying period. No reason to ship in used mortar.

I post this entry on Sunday night, eager for another week of fieldwork at Stensö. Stay tuned!

Turns out early-70s diesel trucks remodelled into camper vans don't have power steering.

Turns out early-70s diesel trucks remodelled into camper vans don’t have power steering.

Secrets of the Runic Lion

The Lion of Pireus is a large 4th century BC marble statue that was moved from Pireus, the port of Athens, to Venice in 1688. It is now at the city’s Arsenal. The Lion has unmistakeable Swedish 11th century runic inscriptions which have been known to Scandinavian scholars since 1798/99. Clearly they have something to do with the Varangian Guard, Swedish soldiers in the employ of the Byzantine Emperor from the 980s onward. But due to poor preservation, the message carried by those runes has been believed lost.

There is a cast of the Lion at the Historical Museum in Stockholm, and I’ve often pondered its silent message and felt frustrated. But frustrated I am no more! Thorgunn Snædal has done what every really good runologist must do: gone to the original and studied it. And re-studied it. And re-studied it again. She’s visited the Lion in Venice four times and spent a total of ~85 hours with it. And now she’s published her new reading in an Open Access report from the National Heritage Board (in Swedish).

Åsmund's inscription, late 11th century.

Åsmund’s inscription, late 11th century.

Left side, early 11th century.

they carved, the troopers … and in this harbour, these men carved runes after Horse the farm-owner … Swedes had this done on the lion. Fell before he could take a ransom.

Left thigh, prob. 11th century.

Young warriors carved the runes.

Right side, late 11th century.

Åsmund carved … these runes, they Æskell … Þōrlæifr and …

Snædal emphasises the skill with which Åsmund composed the third inscription, judging that he was actually a better rune master than e.g. Uppland’s prolific Öpir (though there may have been two masters of that name). She hopes that one day we will find a signed stone by Åsmund at home in Svealand. This is not by any means casual graffiti.

The new reading says a lot about the men who made the inscriptions. The first group is commemorating Horse, who has died early during his tour of duty, much in the same way as his family would on a runestone back home. But they’re also emphasising their own identity in the alien environment in ways that we never see at home. They juxtapose Horse’s Swedish farm-owner status with a comment on the amazing ancient naval harbour, no likes of which could be seen in Sweden, then explicitly identify themselves as Swedes. It is a highly martial monument, re-using a huge fierce lion and created by men who identify themselves as troopers and young warriors who can’t be certain that they will live to ever see Sweden again. Over a period of at least 50 years, two other groups of Varangians take the time to add inscriptions to the lion, suggesting that it was painted in, remembered and talked about as a must-see sight for any Swede in Pireus. As it should be today for any Swede in Venice.

Messrs Silk, Licker and Ball Carve Some Runes

We interrupt this transmission for a puerile message from Medieval Bergen. It was found carved with runes on a stick at the Hanseatic docks.

ion silkifuþ a mek en guþormr fuþcllæikir ræist mik en : ion fuþkula ræþr m(e)k (N B434)

“John Silkencunt owns me and Guttorm Cuntlicker carved me and John Cuntball reads me”

Philologists are not certain as to whether fuþkula, “cuntball”, means clitoris, or a well-padded mons veneris, or “cunt cavern”. All the three mentioned men are historical figures known from other sources, but apparently they are usually referred to there as John Silk, Guttorm Licker and John Ball. Possibly a young Guttorm is making fun of all three names here by adding fuþ to them.

For some good, solid and frank scholarship on this theme, I recommend Carita Holm’s recent MA thesis in runology from Uppsala (written in Swedish).

Changing Fates of the Sälna Runestone

The Stone of Sälna is a runestone (U 323) erected about AD 1000 at Sälna hamlet where a major road crossed Hargsån stream in Skånela parish, Uppland. (This is not far from where Arlanda airport now sprawls.) None of this is unusual. But the stone’s great height, its inscription and its later fate are. Here’s what can be made out of the runes as they survive today and as documented by a 17th century antiquarian.

Østeinn and Jorundr and Bjorn, the brothers, erected [this] stone [after] …steinn drums, their father. God help his spirit and soul, forgive him his crimes and sins. Forever shall remain, while there are people, the bridge compactly paved, wide, for the good man. Young men made it after their father. There cannot be a better road memorial.

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With almost 200 runes, this is one of the longest inscriptions we have, partly composed in fornyrðislag metre, and it is far from the terse formulaic language that characterises later runestones from the boom decades after about 1050. What drums means is uncertain, but it was apparently the dead father’s byname. The bridge in question was an earthen causeway.

The Stone of Sälna was left alone until 1820, when the owners of nearby Skånelaholm manor were laying out an English landscape park across a couple of hills. Such a park had to have visit-worthy sites, such as gazebos, waterfalls, lily ponds, fake ruins, why not a fake cave in which a fake hermit could sit during parties and dispense gnomic utterances to passersby. Or why not a runestone. So Mr. and Mrs. Jennings had the Stone of Sälna hauled by oxen from the stream to the top of a wooded hill next to the manor. It proved so heavy that the workmen decided to break it into pieces, losing bits of the inscription in the process. One part of the stone was erected at the end of a path in the park and given an ornamental flower fringe, while two others functioned as gate posts. Such treatment of runestones was not condoned by antiquarians at the time: in 1857 Richard Dybeck would rail against it.

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The Jenningses also had an enigmatic inscription added to the stone’s back side. The literature I’ve used suggests that it should be understood in the context of the Romantic era’s “companionate marriage ideal … romantic friendship and the cult of true love” (in the words of Axel Nissen).

For
Hedvig Margareta Hamilton
John Jennings’
Beloved departed wife
By
His present happy
Sophie Eleonore Rosenhane
The stone was erected in
1820
After 18 years’ marriage

So we have a second wife commemorating and thanking the short-lived first wife. For what? For dying conveniently? Dybeck characterises the inscription as “meaningless”. My guess is that the incongruous message has something to do with the stone’s new function as an easter egg in a landscape park, a humorous curiosity to reward a guest who took the trouble to walk up onto the hilltop. Though semi-public, this message was never intended as a main part of the Jennings’ family’s public face.

In 1940 the stone was reassembled and re-erected on the park hill – its exact original site having been forgotten. The top piece with half a cross, extant in the 17th century and probably lost in 1820, is still missing.

*

My friend Howard Williams takes great interest in commemoration, monument re-use and antiquarian attitudes to the archaeological record. Check out his blog with the suitably metal title Archaeodeath!

Swedish Runic Corpus On-line

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Here’s an extremely useful resource. The Swedish National Heritage Board has scanned the great multivolume corpus publication of Swedish runic inscriptions, Sveriges runinskrifter, and put it on-line for free. Currently as PDF files, but in the future there will also be a structured database. Though the PDF:s have been run through optical character recognition, they don’t seem to have been indexed on Google (yet?).

For an example, read about (p. 547 ff) Kalv’s runestone U 875 at Focksta in Hagby, Uppland, shown above.

Airport Runestone

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I’ve written before about the archaeological landscape surrounding Arlanda International Airport north of Stockholm. Following on yesterday’s post about the fake archaeology in Oslo airport, here’s a piece of landscape that has been moved inside Arlanda’s terminal 2. It’s an 11th century runestone commemorating one of the men who died on Ingvar the Far-travelled’s disastrous expedition to the east. The stone was found in 2000 when the road to the airport was widened, suggesting an impressive age for the road. Placing the runestone in the airport terminal ensures its protection from the rain and freeze-thaw cycle, and also makes it maximally accessible to the public. I think this is the sort of heritage the Norwegians should be displaying at their airport too.

“Gunnar and Björn and Torgrim erected this stone after Torsten, their brother. He died in the East with Ingvar. And made this bridge.”

Kensington Runestone Faker’s Signature Found

i-99e17a64e823299d6c7b23c48f713e2b-KensingtonRunestone-225.jpgThe Kensington runestone of Minnesota is a rather obvious 19th century fake. But in a recent paper in Saga och Sed 2010, Mats G. Larsson shows something less obvious: the hidden signature of the stone’s carver, who also was its finder.

Olof Öhman came from Forsa in Hälsingland, central Sweden. He claimed to have found the stone among the roots of an aspen tree he had felled with his son. Now Larsson points to the unique rune for Ö on the stone, which is an O with a small N inside. This looks a lot like O-n, an abbreviation of the man’s surname. And as it turns out, Öhman came from a farmstead named Ön, “the island”, which is likely where his name came from. This is pretty suggestive. But the clincher is found in some simple cryptography.

Öhman owned a copy of the book Den kunskapsrike skolmästaren, which contains a short section on numeral cryptograms. One of the first things that stick out about the Kensington inscription is the unparallelled preponderance of numbers in it. They form the following sequence:

8 – 22 – 2 – 10 – 10 – 14 – 13 – 62

To get a comprehensible message, Larsson flips this sequence over:

62 – 13 – 14 – 10 – 10 – 2 – 22 – 8

The inscription has twelve lines. Larsson counts the words from the left on odd-numbered lines and from the right on even-numbered lines, arriving at the following:

62: öh
13: mans (jumping up to the penultimate line when the end of the last line is reached)
14: fan
10: vi
10: ved
2: hade
22: ved (jumping down to the second line when the end of the first line is reached)
8: sten

“Öh mans fan vi ved hade ved sten”, or in English, “The Öhmans found. We kept/collected firewood at the stone.”

So Olof Öhman probably told the truth when he said he found the stone while collecting firewood. And then he carved an inscription on it.

Larsson sums up (and I translate),

“… this is not strictly a case of forgery, but of a practical joke gone wrong through the gullibility of others. … Öhman himself may have been both surprised and a little disappointed to find that his hints about who made the inscription were never noted, and as time passed it became successively more difficult for him to confess. After his rune stone gained acceptance in wider circles through skilful marketing by others, it became almost impossible for him to come clean with his honour intact.

According to John Gran’s son [J. Gran was Öhman’s neighbour], Olof Öhman once expressed a strong wish to write something that would fool society, the people and particularly academics, towards which he was extra hostile. The end result of his prank was not however quite what he had hoped for: academics in the runic field were not fooled, but non-academics were.”


Larsson, M.G.. 2010. Vem ristade Kensingtonrunstenen? Saga och sed 2010. Uppsala.

Iarlabanki Had This Stone Made While He Still Lived

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If we look only at contemporaneous written evidence and disregard kings, Iarlabanki Ingefastson is probably the most copiously documented Scandinavian of the Viking Period. But his name does not occur even once on vellum. His memory lives entirely in the many rune stones he commissioned.

Iarlabanki (Jarlabanke in modern Swedish) was a major landowner in Uppland north of Stockholm, and his lifetime happened to coincide with the great mid-to-late-11th century rune stone craze in that province. Iarlabanki was a Christian, probably only of the third generation, and like other monuments of the time, his testify to this faith. The inscriptions also commemorate projects like the building of roads, causeways and an assembly site, and state that Iarlabanki administered a territory corresponding to several Medieval parishes. This suggests that he was a royal bailiff and/or military officer.

Famed runologist and Custodian of Ancient Monuments Sven B.F. Jansson (Run-Janne, “Johnny Runes”) lived to see the rediscovery of several of Iarlabanki’s rune stones. Regarding the one that reports the man’s death, Jansson quipped, “After studying Iarlabanki’s rune stones for so long, we were all very sad to learn that he has passed away!”