Today we recognize that handwriting is unique to each person. From the way we form our letters to the amount of pressure we place on pen and paper, the details of our individual writing can be used to identify us. The same, it seems, is true for ancient runesmiths, which has allowed archaeologists to finally identify the person who carved the amazing Jelling stones in Denmark.
The Jelling stones are located in the town of Jelling, near the eastern coast of Denmark. They consist of two massive stone monuments that date back to the 10th century CE. The oldest was erected by King Gorm the Old to honor his wife Thyra, while the second stone was raised by his son, Harald Bluetooth (of hands-free fame) to commemorate his parent’s memory. This second stone also contains intricate carvings that describe Harald’s achievements. It celebrates his conquest of Denmark and Norway and how he converted the Danes to Christianity.
The markings on these stones are beyond impressive. They contain both runic inscriptions as well as carved images – one side of the youngest stone displays the oldest known image of Christ in Scandinavia.
In recent work, a team of researchers from the National Museum in Copenhagen have used 3D scans to analyze the carving tracks of the runes. As with handwriting, the way a runesmith created their runes was unique to the individual, this is because each smith held the chisel in different ways and struck with a certain amount of force.
By analyzing these unique features and the distance between them, the team were able to compare the runes on the Jelling stones with others, such as the Laeborg Runestone, which is located about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) away.
This comparison has been invaluable. It turns out the Jelling stones display the same carving techniques as those on the Laeborg Runestone, the latter of which includes the name “Ravnunge-Tue” carved on it.
This individual is not well known among the wider public, but professionals familiar with Viking archaeology may recognize his name as a famous runesmith. It should be noted that, due to weathering, the team were not able to confirm whether the runes on the smaller Jelling stone belonged to Ravnunge-Tue. Nevertheless, the analysis of his runes on the larger stone also revealed important information about Thyra.
When carving the Laeborg Runestone, the inscription left behind by its author reads “Ravnunge-Tue carved these runes after Thyra, his queen”. Queen Thyra is mentioned on the two Jelling stones, but the name “Thyra” also appears in another stone called Bække 1. This fourth stone contains the inscription “Ravnunge-Tue and Fundin and Gnyple, the three made the stop of Thyra.”
Previously, historians and archaeologists were unsure whether Læborgstenen’s Queen Thyra is the same as the Thyra who appears on the Jelling Stones. But this new analysis bolsters the claim that they are one and the same.
Moreover, the fact that Thyra was mentioned on four stones is pretty remarkable. For a woman to be commemorated on one is unusual, but so many examples suggest she was far more significant than previously assumed.