Magnus Källström

Everlasting Runes – a research platform for Sweden’s runic inscriptions

The research platform Everlasting Runes will present Sweden's runic inscriptions in a new way and give new possibilities to work with runic material. The aim is to show, in one and the same place on the Internet, all the country's runic inscriptions in text and image, and simultaneously to provide a large and varied collection of documentation and original sources for further research. The research platform will link the published parts of the series Sveriges runinskrifter with the Scandinavian Runic-text Database and make it possible to use both these sources together.

Pictures are given a prominent role and new material will be added continuously, to make the platform an indispensable source and a dynamic tool for anyone interested in runic inscriptions - people in academic research, cultural heritage management and the general public.

In connection with the project three research tasks will also be carried out, using the material and contributing to the design of the platform: "Runic inscriptions of Medelpad", "The islands in the Baltic Sea", and "Otto von Friesen as a runologist".

Everlasting Runes is a collaboration between the National Heritage Board and Uppsala Runic Forum in the Department of Scandinavian Languages, Uppsala University. The name is a translation of the Old Norse word ǣvinrūnaʀ, which is attested twice in the sources: once carved in stone on the Malt Stone in Jutland and once written on parchment in the Eddic poem Rígsþula.
Final report
The project “Everlasting Runes” is a collaborative venture between the Swedish National Heritage Board and the Department of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University. The overall aim has been to create a research platform for Sweden’s runic inscriptions by linking two digital resources: the digitized parts of the published volumes of the corpus edition Sveriges runinskrifter and the Scandinavian Runic-text Database. In addition, valuable and previously inaccessible runological source material was to be digitized and made available through the platform, and three research projects would be carried out on the basis of this material. In addition to the aforementioned institutions, staff from Uppsala University Library, the University IT Services at Uppsala University, Dalarna University College, and the National Museum in Copenhagen have also participated in the work.

The research platform, named Runor, was launched in its first version on 3 December 2020 and is the result of close collaboration between researchers and developers at the National Heritage Board and Uppsala University. The foundation is a restructured version of the Scandinavian Runic-text Database, which is presented in a completely new way, making it easier to use for anyone who is interested, while simultaneously allowing advanced linguistic searches. The database has also been expanded, for example with 320 inscriptions in so-called Dalecarlian runes, material that has not previously been available for research in this way. Other new features include a translation into modern Swedish of the Swedish runic inscriptions.

On the research platform it is possible to search the inscriptions directly from a map, but also to have the results of a search presented on the same map. By linking different key words it is also easy to search for various categories, such as object type, material, and geographical area. Each inscription is linked to pictorial material in the National Heritage Board’s image database, as well as collections of images from other institutions. The material that has been digitized as part of the project will also be available at this site. In addition, the platform is directly linked to entries in the Register of Ancient Monuments through Fornsök and to the Swedish runic bibliography with its up-to-date bibliographical information about the individual inscriptions.

The work of digitization has focused on a number of important sources that were formerly difficult to access. In collaboration with Uppsala University Library, we have scanned a number of selected manuscripts by Olof Celsius the Elder, as well as about twenty notebooks and a large collection of photographs (about 1000 images) left by the Uppsala professor Otto von Friesen. This material is now available on the Alvin platform and will be linked to Runor during the spring.

From the Antiquarian Topographical Archive (ATA) at the Swedish National Heritage Board, we have digitized the large collection of images of runic stones and picture stones, comprising a hundred folders in folio format with a total of some 15,000 individual images. Other collections of material that have now been digitized are Arthur Nordén’s manuscript for a supplement to Östergötlands runinskrifter from 1948, Runverket’s extensive register of inscriptions in Dalecarlian runes, and Runverket’s collection of slides.

Three research tasks have also been carried out as part of the project. The work was distributed between the National Heritage Board and the Department of Scandinavian Languages in Uppsala and used the now digitized source material in various ways.

The research project “Runic Inscriptions of Medelpad” was intended to create a scholarly edition of the inscriptions from that province as volume 15:3 in the major work Sveriges runinskrifter. There are nineteen runic inscriptions in Medelpad, five of which are missing today. Studies using both conventional methods and 3D scanning have led to new readings and new interpretations. The corpus of personal names in runic Swedish has now been expanded with some previously unknown or rare names. The variant of the runic alphabet used in Medelpad exhibits several original features, for instance a large element of reversed runes, which may be the result of an attempt to compensate for the shortage of characters in the Viking Age writing system.

Using various interdisciplinary methods, the research project “The use of runes on the Islands in the Baltic See” has studied how runes were used on Öland, Gotland, and Bornholm. Among other things, about forty runic stones on Öland and Bornholm have undergone 3D scanning to analyse and compare carving techniques in different areas. This fieldwork uncovered a previously overlooked runic stone on Bornholm. On the Karlevi stone on Öland, the relationship between the runic inscription and a Latin inscription of unknown age on the back of the stone has been determined. The studies have also shown that the runes came into use at different times on the three islands and that this script was used in different ways and on different types of objects. On Bornholm in the Middle Ages, for example, runes seem to have mainly been used for magical texts that were concealed in folded amulets, while on Gotland they are open and ubiquitous, not least in ecclesiastical contexts.

The research project “Otto von Friesen as a Runologist” concerned the Uppsala professor who was one of the most influential runologists of the twentieth century, sometimes called “the founder of modern Swedish runology”. The project has given a clearer picture of von Friesen’s work specifically and of Swedish runology during the first half of the twentieth century in general. The extensive collection of letters in Uppsala University Library, combined with his now digitized photographs and field notes, gives a clear picture of how von Friesen organized his work, how his readings and interpretations of runic inscriptions developed, and how he collaborated with his fellow researchers. This in turn has contributed valuable knowledge of the historical context in which the first volumes of Sveriges runinskrifter came into being.

It has been a project with many parts which has engaged a wide range of people in addition to those named in the application for project funding. The development of the research platform suffered several delays as a result of a necessary change of technology and competition from other development projects that had to be completed before going further, but it has still been possible to accomplish the aim within the framework of the project. The material that has been digitized has been prepared for incorporation in the database and will be added gradually during the year.

By contrast, the three research projects have encountered fewer complications, probably because they had a relatively independent status. However, travel restrictions in the last year and the difficulty of accessing archives has had a detrimental impact on the finalizing of these projects as well.

The project has undoubtedly brought the runological activities at the Swedish National Heritage Board and the Department of Scandinavian Languages in Uppsala even closer together. Since the search service is located at the National Heritage Board and the database at Uppsala University, the further administration and development will take place in collaboration between the institutions. The platform is already being used in teaching at Uppsala University, and that is the place to which reports and other newly produced documentation from the Swedish National Heritage Board will be linked in the future. Plans for the development and improvement of the service are already in preparation. The research projects have also led to new and deeper collaboration with various research institutions in Denmark and Scotland, among others.

The results of the work have been disseminated during the project through seminars, lectures at conferences, and articles in both scholarly and popular contexts. Digital media such as the “K-blogg” have also been used. A full-day seminar on the project was organised in Uppsala in April 2018, and in May 2019 the 32nd International Meeting of Field Runologists was held in Medelpad. All major events have been continuously reported on the project’s website.

Due to the corona pandemic, the launch of the research platform Runor took the form of a digital seminar, which was also recorded and can be seen after the event. On 28 January 2021, a digital lecture on the project was held on the Facebook page of the Gamla Uppsala museum, which attracted considerable attention. Information about the platform was subsequently disseminated through news reports on SVT Uppsala and SVT Gotland.

The research platform that is now in place opens the door for new research collaborations on the runic inscriptions. The administration interface that has been developed is prepared for XML tagging in Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) format, which will allow for syntactic searches in the future and the creation of digital word and name indexes of words and names in the runic texts. Another development potential is to create the conditions for displaying 3D documentation directly on the platform. This also gives the opportunity to present additional digitized archival material, as there are still large collections of runological interest, especially in ATA, in Uppsala University Library, and in the Royal Library, along with other heritage institutions around the country.

The continued publication of Swedish runic inscriptions in Sveriges runinskrifter and the publication of new finds is a crucial task in runology, and the research platform Runor will play an important role in the future by being able to communicate this source material to researchers and the general public faster than before.
Grant administrator
Riksantikvarieämbetet Visby
Reference number
SEK 8,848,000
Collections and Research
Specific Languages