The eldest runestones, inscribed with Elder Futhark inscriptions, date from the 4th century. However, the most of the runestones were created during the late Viking Age and thus inscribed with the Younger Futhark runes. The runestones were usually erected to commemorate one or several deceased kinsmen, and in most cases these people died at home peacefully. Usually, men raised or commanded raising a runestone, while some of them are raised by women, usually widows of the deceased. It is believed that runestones were brightly colored. Nowadays, most of them are painted with falu red, Swedish deep red paint known for its use on wooden cottages and barns. The vast majority of the runestones are located in Scandinavia, but they can be found at all places reached by the Norsemen during the Viking Age: from the Isle of Man to Berezan’ in the Black Sea region. It is interesting, however, that not a single runestone is known to be found in Iceland. Runestones were erected at assembly locations, near roads, bridges and fords. Only a few of them are explicitly not Christian, like the Stenkvista runestone in Södermanland, Sweden, which has an image of Thor’s hammer on it. In Uppland about 70% of runestones are engraved with crosses or prayers and thus are clearly Christian. The same is true for about half of the runestones in other places. Runestones marked territory, explained inheritance, and told about important events. They remain one of the most striking traces left from the Viking Age.
Photo: Runestone U 164 (one of the Jarlabanke runestones), detail. Courtesy Mararie. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 2.0 Generic Licence.