:: The Vikings of Bjornstad ::
Making a Viking Age Runestone for Re-enactors
A how-to, more or less
July/August 2016

The Vikings of Bjornstad are continually looking for ways to add educational and visual interest to our display of Viking Age Norse culture.  Hundreds of picture and runestones were raised between the 8th and 11th century.  They celebrated victories, commemorated deaths and depicted scenes from legends and sagas.  Other than the weight of a six-foot-plus granite stone and the skill to inscribe one, what was holding us back?  Recognizing the authenticy concerns, we decided a runestone we could transport and display was a reasonable trade-off. After a couple of years of research, we found the right material, and more importantly, the right stone to reproduce. It was a LOT of work, entirely by Jack Garrett, but it's a great source of conversation and head scratching...

The Vikings of Bjornstad's runestone, a reproduction of the Stora Hammars I stone, modified slightly.  The inscription at the bottom: "The Vikings of Bjornstad raised this stone", transliterated from English into Younger Futhark long-twig (Danish) runes

The Stora Hammars I picture stone from the 10th century, on the Swedish island of Gotland

Image source: http://christianization.hist.cam.ac.uk/images/html/sweden2-image.html
  The proof of concept: carved polyurethane foam, sprayed with multi-colored paint, will look enough like stone and MAY be durable enough for our purposes

The primary ingredient: 2 foam pads, glued together with spray adhesive
  Ready to begin putting the design on the foam

I used a Sharpie to draw the figures onto the foam and an X-Acto knife to cut the figures into it - about 3/8 inch deep

  Fingernail scissors cut away the space between figures - removing about 1/8 to 3/16 inches of foam

  It's not a fast process
  Two armed men attacking a third?  Why is this the first (uppermost) scene on the stone?  What is that thing at right?  A squid?  A man-eating plant?  Just a space-filler?

In the second panel, why are two swords shown standing unsupported?  Is the dog attacking?  Jumping on a beanbag?  Nice horse...

What is going on in this scene?  There's a confuson of images: a sapling being pulled down?, Odin's Valknut symbol, a torture victim?, a torturer?, two ravens, a rescue party? - or are they attackers??? 

Some descriptions of the stone say there is a man hanging from the tree. I don't think so.  It's unlikely anyone would be hanged with a shield and the other man seems to be engaged with the object (a stone forge?) in front of him.

Is the object held by the "torturer" a spear? Some believe the man is holding a rope, but there appears to be a definite space between the end of the rope or spear and the Valknut.  Does the symbol signify Odin's presence among the figures?  Are those the ravens Hugin and Munin flying around?

Why is the person on the table/bench smaller than the others?  Is it a child or was the image squeezed in after work had started on other figures?  And who are the warriors at right attacking?  Could the "torturer" instead be their leader, intent on saving the victim?

Are those clouds above the ship panel?  A meaningless spacer between panels?  A sylized shield wall?

Why put in something with so little apparent meaning? Or was it used as a marker, to signify time passing or a break between sagas?

Note the ship has no mast and sail. 

Why is a set of fire tongs shown above the ship?  Is that an iron billet in its jaws or a piece of charcoal?  

Is the woman in the center Hilðr, from the saga entitled Hjaðningavíg, the "Battle of the Heodenings"?  Was she taken by force by Heðinn or did she go with him willingly?  Whatever the catalyst, her father Hǫgni initiates eternal combat to achieve her return.  In the panel, is she at the head of the armed party at right or is she trying to prevent combat?  My daughter is convinced she is leading the charge.

Could be.  Nice torch, in any event...

In this next panel, what does the head and incomplete body at left mean? Are those flames at the warrior's back or a feathered plume? Who is the horse trampling?  And, is that really an eagle eating from a basin on its back?

The longship is spectacular, both in its original design and in the artistic rendering on the the Stora Hammars I stone.  There are over 300 individual incised diagonals on the sail alone. 

A web of rigging lines is being controlled by the crew.  Was this an early sailing design necessary to control a massive sail, and something that was discarded or simplified later?
The scene shows the Vikings' pride in their ships: a stone carver who could never have seen a still image of ocean waves chose to depict the ship gliding on the tops of the waves, not plowing through them. 
Our runestone needs ... runes.  Many others had them, but not the Stora Hammars I stone.


So few Viking runes: 16.  Every phonetic sound or letter provides another opportunity to spell something "wrong".  But we'll stand by these...

Again, "The Vikings of Bjornstad raised this stone."

The central panels are done.  Now for the border - and all those loops...

The view from the bottom - without the loops

The view from the top - with the loops
  Preparing a tennis ball to pad the top of the runestone's spine: a pole lamp stand.  The support structure will be glued between the two sheets of foam.

The tennis ball in place on the pole.  Two ribs made from plastic coat hangers will reduce swiveling in the breeze.  The coat hangers will be trimmed, leaving just two horizontal shafts as ribs.

The location where the lower rib will be

The ribs will be inserted into holes drilled into the pole 
  The wooden dowel will be screwed in place on the internal pole shown and then slid into the shaft on the weighted base each time the runestone is erected

Cutting the central trench for the pole.  Eventually it will be the full width of the pole and half its diameter deep.

The "skeleton" in place.  An identical trench will be cut into the other foam sheet, then the two glued together, securing the skeleton in the foam sandwich.  Two screws hold the now painted dowel in place in the pole.  Each time the runestone is erected, the two lower screws will slide into slots on the weighted base's support pole,  helping keep the runestone facing forward on the base.
The partially painted base.  Two guide slots have been cut into the upper edge of the pole, barely visible at left and right above, to reduce rotation of the runestone in the wind, as noted previously.

The completely carved, but unpainted runestone.  The carved foam provides nice three dimensional shadowing in the sunshine.
Another view.  We'll provide a weighted covering of simulated foliage to hide the base and the slot in the foam.

Several coats of multi-colored paint later, with a lighter color simulating a weathered coat of paint on the front surface.


Painting the "depressed" areas begins

A long way to go.  The loop pattern is repeated 64 times around the perimeter.


A couple of weeks later

After two full months of construction...

Polyurethane foam provides an incredible amount of surface area to paint - especially to get the simulated granite surface I wanted

My goal was to create a stone that looks no more than 20 or 30 years "old", when it is seen by our audiences, not the full 11 centuries the original has survived. 

The original stone weighs in the neighborhood of 1,470 pounds.  Ours is about 1,450 pounds less - and considerably more portable as a result.  Our runestone also avoids some of the "anatomical" aspects of the original; we visit classes full of children nine years old and younger, so it seemed like a sensible authenticity trade-off.

Image source: http://christianization.hist.cam.ac.uk/images/html/sweden2-image.html
  ©   For information contact Jack Garrett at info@vikingsofbjornstad.com