Famous runestone in Sweden may have been erected for fear of extreme winter

The Rök rune stone, one of the most famous Viking rune stones in the world, has been analyzed again by a team of researchers who published the results in Futhark: International Journal of Runic Studies. This stone, which is located in a church in Östergötland, Sweden, was hoisted around 800 AD.

The most widespread thesis is that this stone, which boasts a mysterious inscription, never fully deciphered, was erected in honor of the dead son of an important personality. Some researchers have thought that the inscriptions may refer to the heroic acts of Theodoric the Great who was sovereign of the Ostrogoths during the sixth century in the area of modern Italy.

However, the new study, written by researchers from three different Swedish universities, suggests that the inscriptions refer to the danger of an imminent extreme winter and the fear of a repetition of a previous climate crisis that had seen extreme cold in Scandinavia in times before the erection of the stone. As the researchers explain, the inscription suggests an underlying anxiety that began following the death of a child but also the fear of a new climate crisis, something that these populations were evidently well aware of because in 536 A.D. there had been a catastrophic one.

It was during this period that there was an extreme cold caused by several volcanic eruptions. The winters saw very low average temperatures and this led, consequently, to poorer harvests and famine but also to mass extinctions in the animal world. It is estimated that during this period the population living in the Scandinavian area had been reduced by 50% and memories of this adverse event and extreme cold have evidently passed from generation to generation and never forgotten for centuries.

Moreover, when battles lasting more than 100 years are mentioned in the same inscription, according to the researchers we are referring not to real battles in the context of some war but to a different concept of battle, a sort of conflict between light and darkness, between heat and cold and therefore between life and death. Evidently in the period in which the stone was erected, there must have been some natural phenomenon that affected these populations, such as a powerful solar storm that saw the sky change color, a solar eclipse or an unusually cold summer with crops dying.

Only one of these events, as Bo Graslund, professor of archaeology at the University of Uppsala and one of the authors of the study, explains, could have triggered the necessary level of fear of a new “Fimbulwinter” (“great winter” in Norse mythology).