Moved around Edinburgh, it now sits in its permanent home in George Square outside the Scandinavian Studies department.
In a city known for its gravestones - Greyfriars Kirkyard inspired Charles Dickens and JK Rowling and economist Adam Smith is buried in Canongate - one more shouldn’t be noteworthy. But when it’s a Viking relic that predates Edinburgh Castle, the coolness factor increases substantially.
Brought over in the 18th century, the stone is made of 1.3 tonnes of granite and is over 1,000 years old. One of only three Swedish runestones in Britain, it was donated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1787 by Sir Alexander Seton of Preston whose uncle was a banker to the Swedish king.
The front side of the stone is engraved with carvings - a message written in futhark runes that make a serpent shape around the cross carved into the centre of the stone. It’s believed that it was the work of a famous Viking runemaster called Erik, due to its similarities to other stones in Sweden that have been attributed to him.
The runic alphabet predated the Roman alphabet we now use, and the message reads “Ari raised the stone in memory of Hjalmr, his father. May God help his spirit.”
Currently on display in George Square, the stone has been all over Edinburgh like a tourist during the Fringe. Initially installed in the Canongate before being moved into Princes Street Gardens beneath the Castle Esplanade in 1812.
Because of the location - it was on a steep hill, behind a fence - the stone was largely forgotten about and even regular visitors to the gardens were unaware that it was there. Keen to preserve the stone for future generations and make it more visible and accessible, the University of Edinburgh was chosen as a suitable final resting place and it now sits outside their Scandinavian Studies department at 50 George Square.
Prior to the move in 2019, archeologists carefully excavated the stone, scanning it and assessing it for damage but despite its age and the lack of maintenance it was still in good condition. Slightly blackened by air pollution and having taken a hit from the birds who were its only frequent visitors, there was nothing that couldn’t be cleaned up and with the advice of Historic Environment Scotland, AOC Archeology was able to move it.
The stone is now owned by National Museums Scotland and on official loan to the university where it is positioned away from the elements - and within sight of several CCTV cameras.
SOURCE: Edinburgh Live
Welsh, Kaite. “The surprising reason why an ancient Viking runestone sits outside Edinburgh University”. Edinburgh Live. Edinburgh. 05 aug. 2021. 06 aug. 2021. <https://www.edinburghlive.co.uk/news/edinburgh-news/surprising-reason-ancient-viking-runestone-21237166.amp>.
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