A girl with a teddy bear at a runestone in Söderby, Botkyrka. The inscription reads,

A girl with a teddy bear at a runestone in Söderby, Botkyrka. The inscription reads, “Sibbe and Tjarve had the stone raised in memory of Torkel, their father.” 1930.

Remnants of the glorious Viking past are scattered throughout the countryside of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Particularly in Sweden’s Uppland province, there are thousands of stones carved with runic inscriptions dating from the Bronze Age up to modern times. Runestones were most commonly raised as memorials to deceased relatives and friends, but they were not burial markers. Instead they were often placed close to roads or other communication routes.

Runestones are the oldest existing original works of writing in Scandinavia. Originally they were written in a script consisting of 24 characters, known as the Elder Futhark (f-u-th-a-r-k being the sounds represented by the first six characters). Beginning in the early eighth century, this writing system was replaced by a revised alphabet, known as the Younger Futhark, with just 16 characters.

The main purpose of a runestone was to mark territory, to explain inheritance, to boast about constructions, to bring glory to dead kinsmen and to tell of important events. In some parts of Uppland, the runestones also appear to have functioned as social and economical markers. Virtually all the runestones from the late Viking Age make use of the same formula. The text tells in memory of whom the runestone is raised, who raised it, and often how the deceased and the one who raised the runestone are related to each other. Also, the inscription can tell the social status of the dead person, possible foreign voyage, place of death, and also a prayer.

Other, older stone inscriptions feature more cryptic shapes, lines and pictograms. These photos from the Swedish National Heritage Board feature early 20th century Swedes excavating, restoring and posing with these monoliths of bygone cultures. Around 2,500 runestones still exist in Sweden today.

A runestone where it was found at Stora Dalby on Adelsö island. The inscription reads,

A runestone where it was found at Stora Dalby on Adelsö island. The inscription reads, “May this stone stand in memory of Öpir….” 1917.

Children aid an archaeological survey of a Stone Age settlement in Siretorp, Mjällby. 1912.

Children aid an archaeological survey of a Stone Age settlement in Siretorp, Mjällby. 1912.

A man searches for artifacts at a Stone Age settlement at Kallbäcken, Bygdsiljum. 1922.

A man searches for artifacts at a Stone Age settlement at Kallbäcken, Bygdsiljum. 1922.

People visit an archaeological dig at an Iron Age grave field at Högabacken in Rimforsa. 1915.

People visit an archaeological dig at an Iron Age grave field at Högabacken in Rimforsa. 1915.

Men raise a runestone in Berga, Sorunda. The inscription reads,

Men raise a runestone in Berga, Sorunda. The inscription reads, “Svärting and Kåre and Gudmund and Skåre and Knut raised this stone in memory of Otrygg, their father, who fell in Gudve’s retinue.” 1930.

Men move a runestone at Väntholmen in Hilleshög on Färingsö island. The stone reads,

Men move a runestone at Väntholmen in Hilleshög on Färingsö island. The stone reads, “Stenfast had… the stone in memory of Björn, his brother… in memory of Björn and Arnfast.” 1937.

Elias Wessén and Harald Faith-Ell apply paint to the runes of a stone at Kungshållet. The stone reads,

Elias Wessén and Harald Faith-Ell apply paint to the runes of a stone at Kungshållet. The stone reads, “Alrik, Sigrid’s son, raised the stone in memory of his father Spjut, who had been in the west, broken down and fought in townships. He knew all the journey’s fortresses.” 1929.

A runestone next to a house in Herrestad. The inscription reads,

A runestone next to a house in Herrestad. The inscription reads, “Gudmund made these monuments in memory of Ormar, his son.” 1936.

Boys with a prehistoric rock carving from the Bronze Age (c. 1800-500 BC) in Stora Herrebro. 1924.

Boys with a prehistoric rock carving from the Bronze Age (c. 1800-500 BC) in Stora Herrebro. 1924.

A fallen runestone at Korpbron in Juresta. The inscription reads,

A fallen runestone at Korpbron in Juresta. The inscription reads, “Sandar raised the stone in memory of Joar, his kinsman. No one will bear a more able son. May Tor safeguard.” 1899.

Girls pose next to an inscribed rock near a farm in Uppland. The inscription reads,

Girls pose next to an inscribed rock near a farm in Uppland. The inscription reads, “Kale had this rock-slab cut in memory of his brother Tärv, and Munde in memory of his kinsman-by-marriage.” 1934.

Gunnel Hamner, daughter of photographern J.W. Hamner, poses with runestones at Stenkumla church on the island of Gotland. One stone reads,

Gunnel Hamner, daughter of photographern J.W. Hamner, poses with runestones at Stenkumla church on the island of Gotland. One stone reads, “Botmund and Botraiv and Gunnvat, they raised the stone… farm and sat in the south with the skins. And he met his end at Ulvshale…” while the other reads, “Botmund and Botraiv and Gunnvat they raised this stone… their father. May God and God’s mother help his soul better than we could pray…” 1923.

A runestone at a farm in Törnby, Uppland. The inscription reads,

A runestone at a farm in Törnby, Uppland. The inscription reads, “Ofeg and Sigmar and Fröbjörn they raised [the stone] in memory of Jörund, their father, Gunna’s husbandman. Ärnfast cut these runes.” 1934.

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The “Nävelsjö Stone” in Nöbbeleholm. The inscription reads, “Gunnkel placed this stone in memory of Gunnar, his father, Rode’s son. Helge laid him, his brother, in a stone coffin in Bath in England.” 1944.

A man stands with a runestone in Odensala. The stone reads,

A man stands with a runestone in Odensala. The stone reads, “Ulv and Härbjörn and Näsbjörn and Häming had the stone raised in memory of Borgulv, their father.” 1925.

A prehistoric rock carving from the Bronze Age (c. 1800–500 B.C.) on a granite rock east of Evenstorp, Dalsland. 1931.

A prehistoric rock carving from the Bronze Age (c. 1800–500 B.C.) on a granite rock east of Evenstorp, Dalsland. 1931.

Picture stones at a farmstead in Änge in Buttle on the island of Gotland. 1937.

Picture stones at a farmstead in Änge in Buttle on the island of Gotland. 1937.

A man works on restoring a cracked runestone at Svedjorna in Södra Ving. The inscription reads,

A man works on restoring a cracked runestone at Svedjorna in Södra Ving. The inscription reads, “Tole and Torny made these monuments in memory of Tore and Klakke, their sons.” 1936.

An inscribed boulder in Södra Sätra, Sollentuna called

An inscribed boulder in Södra Sätra, Sollentuna called “Jarlabanke’s stone.” The inscription reads, “Häming and Jarlabanke they had the path cleared and the bridges made in memory of their father; and Estrid in memory of her sons Ingefast and Ingvar. May God help their spirits.” 1934.

The Holmfast carving along a road in Södertälje. The inscriptions read,

The Holmfast carving along a road in Södertälje. The inscriptions read, “Holmfast had the path cleared in memory of Inge… his good mother…. Holmfast had the path cleared and the bridge made in memory of Gammal, his father, who lived in Näsby. May God help his spirit. Östen (carved).” 1930.

A student with a runestone in the Anundshög prehistoric area in Badelunda. The inscription reads,

A student with a runestone in the Anundshög prehistoric area in Badelunda. The inscription reads, “Folkvid raised all of these stones in memory of his son Heden, Anund’s brother. Vred cut the runes.” 1918.

Harald Faith-Ell and Elias Wessén paint in the runes of the Sigurd carving on the Ramsund rock. The Viking Age carving depicts the Old Norse Sigurd saga, about the hero Sigurd who killed the dragon Fafner. The inscription reads,

Harald Faith-Ell and Elias Wessén paint in the runes of the Sigurd carving on the Ramsund rock. The Viking Age carving depicts the Old Norse Sigurd saga, about the hero Sigurd who killed the dragon Fafner. The inscription reads, “Sigrid, Alríkr’s mother, Orm’s daughter, made this bridge for the soul of Holmger, father of Sigröd, her husbandman.” 1928.

A rock with a runic inscription in Granby, Orkesta. It reads,

A rock with a runic inscription in Granby, Orkesta. It reads, “Häming and Själve and Johan they have cut [the stone] in memory of their father Finnvid and Vargas and Ragnfrid and their mother, and in memory of Ingegärd and in memory of Kalv and Gärdar and…. He alone owned all at first. These were their kinsmen. May God help their spirits. Visäte carved these runes.” 1940.

A girl with a runestone in Lejsta. The inscription reads,

A girl with a runestone in Lejsta. The inscription reads, “Vigdjärv and Jorund and Sigbjörn had the stone raised in memory of Svartung, their father.” 1926.

A runic inscription on a rock at Broby in Runtuna. The inscription reads,

A runic inscription on a rock at Broby in Runtuna. The inscription reads, “Otrygg, Agmund, Sigrev, they had the stone cut in memory of Bove, their able father.” 1899.

“The Hunninge stone,” a picture stone from the 8th century AD, on the island of Gotland. 1933.

Linguist and runologist Otto von Friesen stands between medieval gateposts on the island of Gotland. The left gatepost reads,

Linguist and runologist Otto von Friesen stands between medieval gateposts on the island of Gotland. The left gatepost reads, “Olav of Suders made us.” 1923.

A runestone in Ledberg, Östergötland. The stone has mythological images, possibly from the Ragnarök myth, with the Fenris wolf devouring Odin. The inscription, on three sides, says,

A runestone in Ledberg, Östergötland. The stone has mythological images, possibly from the Ragnarök myth, with the Fenris wolf devouring Odin. The inscription, on three sides, says, “Bise placed this stone in memory of Torgöt… his father, [Bise] and Gunna, both [raised the stone]. Thistle, mistletoe, casket.” 1945.

A girl stands at a flat rock with a runic inscription in Skillinge. The inscription reads,

A girl stands at a flat rock with a runic inscription in Skillinge. The inscription reads, “Atfare and Torgils had the runes carved in memory of Horse, their father, and in memory of Vidfare, their brother.” 1931.

Stone Age and Bronze Age carvings near the Nämforsen rapids in the Ångermanälven river.

Stone Age and Bronze Age carvings near the Nämforsen rapids in the Ångermanälven river. 1944.

(Photo credit: Swedish National Heritage Board).