Archaeologists from the National Museum in Copenhagen, using advanced 3D scanning technology, have made a significant discovery regarding the Jelling Stone Runes located in the town of Jelling, Denmark. The findings not only identified the individual behind the carving of these ancient stones but also shed light on the prominent role played by a Viking queen, Queen Thyra.
The Jelling Stones, a pair of massive stone monuments dating back to the 10th century, are of historical and cultural significance, often referred to as Denmark’s “birth certificate.” The first stone was raised by King Gorm the Old in tribute to his wife, Queen Thyra, and the second stone was erected by his son, King Harald Bluetooth, commemorating his parents and celebrating his rule over Denmark and Norway, along with his pivotal role in converting the Danish people to Christianity.
The breakthrough in this study came from the examination of the carving tracks on the runes, a technique similar to analyzing handwriting. Each runestone carver had a unique method of holding the chisel and striking it with a specific force, leading to distinct patterns in the runes’ grooves. The research team analyzed the angle and distance between these grooves, revealing that the Jelling Stones shared the same carving technique with the Laeborg Runestone, located approximately 30 kilometers away.
Crucially, the Laeborg Runestone contained an inscription that revealed the identity of the runestone carver: “Ravnunge-Tue carved these runes after Thyra, his queen.” Significantly, Queen Thyra’s name appeared on both the Jelling Stones and the Laeborg Runestone. This discovery confirmed that the same individual, Ravnunge-Tue, carved the inscriptions on these stones, making the connection between the Jelling Stones and Laeborg Runestone explicit.
However, Queen Thyra’s name also appeared on another runestone called Bække 1, with the inscription “Ravnunge-Tue and Fundin and Gnyple, the three made the stop of Thyra.” The prevalent use of Queen Thyra’s name on four different runestones highlights her immense importance in Viking-era Denmark.
Lisbeth Imer, a runologist and senior researcher at the National Museum, emphasized the significance of this discovery, stating, “It is an absolutely incredible discovery that we now know the name of the rune maker behind the Jelling stone, but what makes the discovery even wilder is that we know Ravnunge-Tue’s boss. It is Queen Thyra from Jelling, i.e. Harald Blåtand’s mother, there can no longer be much doubt about that.”
This finding challenges previous assumptions about Queen Thyra’s role, suggesting that she likely came from an older, nobler family than King Gorm the Old, who is traditionally referred to as the first King of Denmark.
The prominence of Queen Thyra’s name on four different runestones also hints at the significant influence of women during the Viking Age. This discovery challenges the belief that Viking women held power solely through their husbands or sons and suggests that they might have wielded authority independently.
The research conducted by the National Museum of Denmark not only resolved the mystery of the Jelling Stone Runes but also provided new insights into the historical importance of Queen Thyra, her role in Denmark’s formation, and the potential influence of women during the Viking Age.
The findings of this research have been published in the journal Antiquity.
More information: Lisbeth M. Imer et al, (2023), A lady of leadership: 3D-scanning of runestones in search of Queen Thyra and the Jelling Dynasty, Antiquity. DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2023.108