A runic trip to Uppsala

Last month, I left Orkney for a field trip to Sweden. My co-supervisor, Prof. Stefan Brink from the Centre for Scandinavian Studies at Aberdeen, had organised a three day trip for his PhD students to Uppsala where we toured the local Viking sites with his expert guidance and had a symposium with PhD students from Uppsala and Stockholm to present our research to each other.

After a long journey on boat and planes, I managed to arrive at Uppsala without any luggage, but at least my clothes rejoined me the next day. On our first day, our group got to see the Uppsala cathedral with the magnificent tomb of Gustav Vasa, the runestones in the city centre, then we headed to the Carolina Rediviva library, where we got to see the Uppsala Edda. This manuscript of the Prose Edda from about 1300 is the oldest surviving manuscript of the Eddas, and it was amazing to see it directly in front of me. Later, we took a train into Stockholm to visit the Viking collection at the national museum – and there were more runestones! I was glad to discover that I could indeed read them, so all my practise has not been in vain. I was surprised to even see a runestone fragment built into the corner of a house in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town.

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The next day was the major runestone-day. We went on a car trip around Uppland, visiting many major Viking Age sites I had so far only read about in books or heard about in lectures. We went, among others, to Sigtuna, the first bishop’s seat in medieval Sweden, Gamla Uppsala with its impressive mounds, and – admittedly one of my favourites – the famous bridge of Jarlabanki, one of the most prolific sponsors of runestones you could imagine. On our route, we encountered a huge amount of runestones, as you would expect in the region with the highest runestone density in the world. It made me reflect on how different runic writing developed at the time in different regions from the same roots.

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On the final day, we had the PhD student symposium at the Gustav Adolfs Akademi in Uppsala. It was great to hear about research going on at Aberdeen, Uppsala and Stockholm, and I made some useful contacts to fellow medievalists.

This trip has really expanded my way of thinking of runes, particularly as Prof. Brink showed us how in the Uppland landscape everything is interconnected: runestones are only one part and integrated within a landscape of telling placenames, gravefields, early church sites and so forth. Without looking at every aspect of the monumental landscape, it would be impossible to fully grasp the significance of the runestones. I believe such an integrated approach is also the right way forward for my own research.

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