Previously thought to contain accounts of forgotten valor, the Rök Runestone has puzzled scholars who wish to unlock its meaning. The gray slab was erected in the 9th century. Despite its age, the markings on the runestone are surprisingly legible—a distinct brownish red color.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the inscription was supposedly composed by the Viking Varin and meant to memorialize his slain son Vämod. A section of the slab was thought to reference Theodoric the Great, a Gothic king.
Prof. Per Holmberg, who teaches Scandinavian languages at the University of Gothenburg, postulates that the monument’s inscriptions actually refer to the monument itself, rather than heroic deeds. Holmberg’s research was recently published in Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies.
“The riddles on the front of the stone have to do with the daylight that we need to be able to read the runes, and on the back are riddles that probably have to do with the carving of the runes and the runic alphabet, the so-called furthark,” said Holmberg in a statement.
He added that the supposed reference to Theodoric the Great was based on nothing more than a minor reading error. Holmberg’s theory is based on social semiotics, which “concerns how language is a potential for realizing meaning in different types of texts and contexts,” according to the University of Gothenburg.
Researchers who have previously attempted to unravel the runestone’s meaning have faced difficulty regarding its order. According to the university, the runestone numbers riddles it wants the reader to guess. But those numbers seem to skip from 2 to 12.
“If you let the inscription lead you step by step around the stone, the 12th actually appears as the 12th thing the reader is supposed to consider,” said Holmberg. “It’s not the inscription that skips over something. It’s the researchers that have taken a wrong way through the inscription, in order to make it be about heroic deeds.”
Instead, Holmberg postulates the runestone contains a message concerning how writing can help people commemorate those who have died.
Holmberg’s theory separates the runestone into three sections. All the parts, according to his argument, refer to events and actions that take place within the stone’s vicinity.
“The first deals with the break of dawn and thus the daylight necessary for carving and reading the runes (rather than naming Theodoric), the second (about Vilinn) concerns the carving of the runes, and the third (about the 24 kings) regards the runes themselves and their reading,” Holmberg wrote.
R&D 100 AWARD ENTRIES NOW OPEN:
Establish your company as a technology leader! For more than 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards have showcased new products of technological significance. You can join this exclusive community! Learn more.