Over 1,700 years ago, ancient Swedes began leaving huge memorial stones for their descendants. These stones all had short messages – the “runes” – engraved on them in wonderful jagged, swirling Viking script. The Runestones. On other stones they carved pictoral hieroglyphics. The picture stones.
Generation after generation, descendants of the runestone makers have visited these stones that hold their old words; in ancient forests; in farmers fields; at roadsides; in churchyards and on beaches. They venerate them, proudly protect them and feel at home with them. They are family.
Some 4,000 runic inscriptions are scattered all over Sweden and date back to the 201 to 300 AD or CE – the very beginning of Late Antiquity. The Swedes have numbered and itemised every single one. About 2,500 of these are made on rune stones, most of them from the 11th century A.D. – the end of the Viking Age. They weren’t made as grave stones but as memorials. Most Swedish rune stones lay in the province of Uppland, others sit in Södermanland, Östergötland, Västergötland, Småland and other provinces.
These images show men, women and children in the late 1800s and early 1900s visiting their runestones. They pose beside the inscriptions, stand beside them as if to show us how big they are, how significant. But these photographs aren’t intended to show us anything.
These are pictures of people with their ancient family.
Credit: Riksantikvarieämbetet – Swedish National Heritage Board archives.