A newly uncovered runic stone-carving was brought to light by Jane Harrison (Senior Associate Tutor working in our Archaeology programmes) working as part of a project team for the intriguing ‘Languages, Myths and Finds‘ programme.
‘Languages, Myths and Finds: Translating Norse and Viking Cultures for the Twenty-first Century’ is a Collaborative Skills Development Programme that brings together graduate students and full-time researchers from across the UK and Ireland to explore the translation of Norse and Viking cultures into the modern day. The project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council, and is based in five communities with Norse heritage: the Isle of Lewis, Cleveland, the Isle of Man, Dublin and Munster.
The fragment of inscribed runestone was found in the Tees Valley at Sockburn, in the grounds of a ruined church, having been used as building stone. The inscription on it reads: Line A … (ept)ir molmu; Line B… (re)isti krus …
Jane said, ‘We compared this inscription with a formula used in many Scandinavian runes from the Isle of Man: ‘X raised this cross in memory of Y’. The inscription on our stone therefore translates as (line B, then line A) ‘…raised cross… in memory of Máel-Muire/Máel-Maire’. Sadly, the name of the patron is lost.’
Máel-Muire or Máel-Maire is a personal name from the Goidelic – which is an Insular Celtic language from the dialect continuum stretching from Ireland through the Isle of Man to Scotland. The name is linked to the place-name Melmerby (found in Cumbria and in North Yorkshire) and also seen in a runic inscription from the Isle of Man [Br Olsen;215 – Kirk Michael (III)].
‘The runestone is relatively small, measuring approximately 22 cm long, 16 cm wide and 9cm deep,’ said Jane. ‘But it’s a very exciting find, despite its small size: Scandinavian runic inscriptions in England are rare – there are fewer than 20 known.’
‘The character of the runestone suggests links with the west from the north-east. The Tees Valley has been relatively neglected in studies of the period but that’s likely to change. For “Vikingologists”, this runestone is a great find and one that makes a fascinating contribution to understanding the Viking settlement of the North-East.’
Also remarkable is the fact that the stone was found in an area with a high concentration of Norse place names, but little in the way of archaeological and historical evidence – apart from unique hogback sculptures (large stone-carved Anglo-Scandinavian sculptures from 10th-12th century England and Scotland usually found in churchyards).
The Languages, Myths and Finds programme draws on the research ideas behind the Vikings Exhibition at the British Museum to generate new research and an understanding of the Viking Age in areas of the country where that period is important but rarely discussed. Jane worked with project leads Professor Heather O’Donoghue (University of Oxford), Dr Pragya Vohra (Aberystwyth University) and PhD students Ellie Rye, Jo Shortt Butler and Nik Gunn (from Nottingham, Cambridge and York Universities).
In addition to the runic discovery, the team produced a research booklet, spoke at a conference and performed public engagement work with local societies.
For full information on the Languages, Myths and Finds project, please see the programme website, at languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk On the website you can download and enjoy the booklets produced by each of the project teams, including Jane’s team’s work in Cleveland, which can be found at: languagesmythsfinds.ac.uk/north-east-england/
In what has been described as an “amazing coincidence”, a viking runestone with a religious inscription has been discovered on a farm owned by archaeologist Dr Sarah Jane Gibbon, an expert on Norse church history.
Found by Dr Gibbon’s father, Donnie Grieve, a retired teacher from Harray, the runes on the broken stone are a 19-character Latin passage of part the Lord’s Prayer — “who art in heaven hallowed” [*(s)insilisantifi(t)s(i)(t)or – ‘…s in caelis, sanctificetur‘ with the runic “s” in place of the Latin “c”]
Measuring approximately 8cm by 24cm, it was discovered by Mr Grieve at Naversdale farm in Orphir while he was gathering building stone from a field on September 26.
He said: “I recognised it right away as being runes. It’s very recognisable and very clear.
“It’s unusual, because it’s a Latin inscription — part of the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t think there’s any record of any inscription like that in Orkney or Shetland, so it’s unusual.
“There are plenty of runes, but they are mostly Viking graffiti. This is something a bit different.”
Mr Grieve said that since the find he has been looking out for the remaining parts of the stone.
“When looking for other stone, I’ve been keeping my eye open for the other piece, but I think there’s little likelihood of it turning up,” he said.
“It could have come from anywhere, and it’s probably long separated from the other half.”
Dr Gibbon said: “Dad’s discovery of the runestone is really exciting and, as far as I know, a first for Orkney. I couldn’t believe it when I first saw the stone. We have sent photographs to Professor Michael Barnes, expert on Orkney runic inscriptions, and I am looking forward very much to hearing what he has to say about the find.
“I am hoping he will be able to shed light on the date of the inscription so that we can begin to put it in its proper local and wider ecclesiastical contexts.”
Dr Gibbon said it was not known how or when the runestone came to Naversdale, but there were a number of possible scenarios.
“Was the inscription carved on a stone in a medieval structure on the farm, or was it brought here at a later date from somewhere else, perhaps from elsewhere on the Swanbister Estate?” she said.
“It would be fascinating to find out more about the history of our farm and the buildings on it, and we would be delighted to hear from anyone with information.”
Dr Gibbon added: “I am looking forward to discovering as much as I can about the runestone, especially as the preliminary findings indicate it is from a medieval Christian context, which is my main area of interest. The fact it was found where I live, by my dad, just makes this even more fascinating.”
Julie Gibson, Orkney county archaeologist, said: “The stone is a very beautiful one, each character evenly placed. I love that it is a religious inscription, and what an amazing coincidence that it should turn up at Dr Gibbon’s house.
“We are so lucky Sarah Jane’s father found it, and that Sarah Jane could recognise its value right away.”
Mrs Gibson added that photos of the stone were sent to Terje Spurkland and Professor Michael Barnes, at Oslo University, where a year long runology project is under way.
“Terje confirmed suspicions that the runes represented slightly corrupted Latin, and he translated them as meaning ‘who art in heaven hallowed’,” she said.
The stone is currently with the Orkney College archaeology department, but it is hoped it will soon be on display at the Orkney Museum.