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The Truth Behind Runestones


Outside of U.S. Bank Stadium, fans are greeted by the Minnesota Vikings own versions of runestones. These structures help as wayfinding for fans searching for gates, stores and other locales around the stadium. Other stylized runestones line the team entryway and spit flames as players take the field. All of these structures are modern creations, but have their origins in Viking history. This week we explore the Truth Behind Viking Runestones.

The monumental runic markers are the most lasting of all Viking accomplishments. We know of more than 3,500 runestones from Scandinavia and in the Viking colonies on the British and Atlantic Isles. More than 80 percent of all runestones are found in Sweden.

Viking runic markers usually consist of undressed blocks of stone. They stand at roads and bridges or on grave fields. Almost all are memorials to a deceased person. Many rune carvers sign their inscriptions. Some contain an obituary, 'He died in England', for example. Runestones were news outlets in Viking times, even a sort of Twitter.

Nearly all runic monuments are Christian, and only a few are pagan. Many runestones are ornamented, typically with a snake pattern or a dragon. The serpent body frames the runic inscription, curving along the face of the rock. Red paint made the carving stand out, and occasionally other colors were used, too.

The Danish king Harold Bluetooth triggered the real runestone fashion, starting in the 960s. On his stone he boasts of having converted all Danes. Soon, everyone rich enough joined the fad, combining the Norse hunger for an immortal reputation with the desire for eternal life offered by the new religion.

Henrik Williams is the renowned authority of Old Norse languages, returning to the American Swedish Institute as an in-demand speaker on topics encompassing the Vikings, runes, Old Swedish and Old Icelandic. Awarded a 2015 Rudbeck medal for groundbreaking research, Williams is a scholar and Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Sweden's Uppsala University. As a philologist, he studies languages in written historical sources, essentially combining literary criticism, history, and linguistics.  A 40-year Minnesota Vikings football fan since his years as an exchange student, Williams is currently debunking Nordic myths and advising the team on the authenticity and meaning of its symbols.

These programs are made possible through the collaborative efforts of the American Swedish Institute, Uppsala University, American Friends of Uppsala University, Uppsala University Alumni Association – Minnesota Chapter, American Association for Runic Studies and The Minnesota Vikings.  To learn more or reserve a spot please visit the link below.

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