In search of runes
No other place in the world is as rich in runic stones as Sigtuna. Counting even small fragments unearthed here, well over 40 have been documented just in Sigtuna town. The number rises to 170 when including the whole municipality.
Runes were not reserved solely for use on runic stones but appear on items such as combs, amulets, pieces of wood and bones as well.
Visitors are sometimes surprised when they are advised to look for runic stones near the many early Christian churches (built of stone in the 12th and 13th centuries). “Weren’t the Vikings heathens?”. Not many know that the majority of all runic stones are Christian.
The cross on the stones indicates just that. Most of the stones were put up in memory of deceased family members and intended to be seen by others. They are to be found where people congregated or passed by. The churches that came later were built on those sites, too, and runic stones proved to be quite good building material. A couple of runic stones in town gives us clues about some of Sigtuna’s early history. On the grounds of a private residence on Prästgatan is a stone (U 391) dedicated to a man named Albod.
It was raised by the “Frisian guild-brethren” and the inscription includes the word “felagi.” “Felagi” was incorporated into English in Viking times and has come down to us today as the word “fellow”. The Frisians lived along the coast of the North Sea in Holland and Germany. They were seafarers and tradesmen and many of them traveled widely. The second stone erected by the Frisian Guild is perhaps easier to find because it stands in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Church as a monument to guild-brother Torkel (U 379).
Both stones (U 391 and U379) were fashioned by a rune master named Torbjörn, whose style is somewhat unique and easy to recognize, though not as aesthetically advanced as some of his contemporaries. On the plus side, however, his spelling was very good!
At the Tourist Office and the Museum in Stora gatan, keys to the runic alphabet can be obtained, for your own efforts at reading these ancient messages.
Read more about runes here:
People had a need to mark things that were their property, entertain themselves with word games or riddles and decorate their larger hairpins which differs little from what people do today. When archeologists first started digging in Sigtuna, in 1911, one of the first things unearthed was a small round coppar box.
The rather long runic text explains that it had been used when weighing silver on a set of scales. No doubt it originally belonged to a merchant, and in the archives at Sigtuna Museum there are more than a hundred other items with runic inscriptions indicating that they also had been used in quite ordinary day to day activities.