Thanks to the efforts of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and various project partners, a significant 1.8 metre high Viking Age runestone will soon be re-located in Edinburgh city centre for public viewing, accompanied by new display boards and online resources. The runestone is approximately 1000 years old and originates from Lilla Ramsjö, Westmanland in Sweden.
The 11th-century AD runestone is an important monument for anyone interested in runes, but also tells a fascinating story of the links between Scotland and Sweden during the second half of the 18th century.
Most runestones are located in Scandinavia, unevenly distributed – Denmark has 250 runestones, Norway has 50, and Sweden has as many as between 1,700 and 2,500, depending on definition. Scandinavian runestones typically date from the late Viking Age. Many were carved as memorials to the dead and were brightly coloured when first made.
The runestone in Edinburgh is made of granite and has a runic message framed in a stylised serpent form surrounding a central cross whose stem is linked to the serpent’s head and tail by a collar. The runes are still clear and are of a type common in late Viking Age inscriptions from Sweden. The carved stone has distinctive features which have close similarities to 18 other stones in Sweden. The inscription follows a standard formula for memorials from the end of Sweden’s Viking Age, and contains the most common content of all: a son commemorating his father, with the addition of a prayer. The message on the runestone reads as follows:
Transliteration into Roman alphabet: ‘ ari + rasti + stain + aftir + (h)ialm + faþur sin + kuþ + hialbi + ant hans
Normalisation into Old Swedish: Ari ræisti stæin æftiʀ Hialm, faður sinn. Guð hialpi and hans.
Translation into English: Ari raised [this] stone in memory of Hjalmr, his father. [May] God help his spirit.
The runestone (U 1173) was originally donated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1787 by Sir Alexander Seton of Preston and Ekolsund (1738-1814), a Fellow of the Society and Vice-President between 1804 and 1813. The runestone was presented to the Princes Street Proprietors by the Society in 1821. It is one of three Swedish runestones in Britain; the other two (U 104 & U 1160) are in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Since the 1820s the runestone has been sited high up in Princes Street Gardens, hidden behind railings and largely unknown to the city’s residents and visitors.
Last year the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland joined forces with the City of Edinburgh Council, Historic Environment Scotland, the University of Edinburgh and National Museums Scotland to conserve and move the runestone to a safer location with public access all year round. Funding for the project was awarded by Edinburgh World Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Stories Stones and Bones’ programme.
The ancient carved stone has been accessioned into the National Museums Scotland collections and is now on long-term loan to the University of Edinburgh. In December 2017 experts from AOC Archaeology carefully excavated and lifted the runestone out of the ground, scanned and assessed the carved stone before carrying out necessary conservation work. Later this spring the runestone will be installed outside the University’s Scandinavian Studies Department (building number 50, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9JU).
Throughout this spring and summer several free public events will mark the unveiling of the runestone in its new location. For more information and event details, go to www.socantscot.org.
Founded in 1780 the purpose of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland is “the study of the antiquities and history of Scotland.” Today, the Society is an independent charity [Scottish Charity No. SC010440] focused on education and research, with a worldwide membership of nearly 2,500 Fellows.
Increasingly we are involved in helping to translate Scotland’s history and archaeology for contemporary audiences by highlighting its relevance and sparking people’s interests today. We publish high quality books and peer-reviewed papers, run public lectures and conferences featuring leading experts, and support further research by awarding and administering prestigious grants and prizes. We draw on a wide range of experience and expertise to provide a knowledgeable voice independent of the opinions of other agencies on heritage-related issues in Scotland.
Andrea joined the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in June 2016 as Fellowship and Development Manager to help strengthen Fellowship, secure new funding and further promote the work of the Society.
Cover image © Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, Image 1 © Kalle Runristare, Image 2 © University of Edinburgh Estates Department Design Team.