Imagine standing inside what were the walls of a Viking longhouse from a thousand years ago. No, this is not a reconstructed Viking village but a location where you can still see the house foundations clearly above ground, something quite rare when it comes to Viking archaeology.

Viking foundations and rune rocks

The site is called Granby and is within a 30-minute walk from a local train station in the Stockholm region or a 40-minute car journey from the city center.

Journey out into the Swedish countryside north of the capital. As you come up the hill of the Granby farm, you will see a big white farmhouse on your left-hand side. This is the Orkesta-Granby farm, and you can enjoy a coffee and snack here after visiting the Viking foundations and the rune rock carving called Granbyhällen. 

The farms here had at least four runestones during the Viking Age, and some have been moved to nearby locations. To find this particular one, go up the henge, and you'll see it after 50 meters.

The longhouse, together with a few more houses and burial sites, was first excavated in 1989 by a team of amateur archaeologists led by the qualified Anders Hedman. Still, its historical value has been known since at least the 18th century when the priest and hobby historian Johan Göransson made a sketch of it.

The carving was also depicted in 1859 when Swedish antiquity investigator Richard Dybeck, the same guy who wrote the Swedish national anthem, visited the location.

He recorded a local farmers' tale about a song celebrating an ancient Viking chieftain, although its integrity cannot be confirmed today. Dybeck described the long foundations, interpreted by many to be a house.

The 1989 excavations set out to discover the meaning of these rectangles in stone. In their report, archaeologists Lars Andersson and Rebecka Jonsson confirmed the presence of six houses and a large longhouse measuring 33 x 7 meters. 

The foundations run slightly more than a meter long, and a stone ramp leads into the house from the front, facing a beautiful view from high up on a hill.

Steeped in Viking history

Many interesting Viking findings have been made here, such as silver coins from the 11th century, iron knives, and glass beads, all now stored at the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. 

The longhouse was likely the home of the family who owned Granby, but the excavations suggest that the eastern section was used as a separate barn for their animals. The archaeologist found high levels of historic phosphate in the eastern part of the building, indicating high levels of animal waste. 

The Granby excavation has therefore given academics an insight into Viking farm life and house constructions, making it a well-worth excursion from Stockholm or a fascinating detour if you're transferring between the city and Arlanda Airport.

Ornamentations and parts of the inscription on the Granby rune stone (Granbyhällen). The stone is in need of repainting. Photo: Angus Carlsson / The Viking Herald

Reading the runes

Just in front of the longhouse stands a runestone. Granbyhällen is atypical. This is Sweden's longest rune carving on a rock face (runhäll), and it talks about relatives from the Viking family who lived at the Granby farmstead. 

Until it becomes indistinct, the inscription says: "Häming and Själve and Johan had this stone cut after their father Finnvid, and Vargas and Ragnfrid, and after their mother, and after Ingegärd, and after Kalv and Gärdar and..." 

It continues to say: "He owned everything [i.e., the farm] on his own at first. They were relatives. God help their souls. Visäte carved these runes."

What can we make out of this?

One theory is that the carving is an inheritance document. The text lists several names and clearly states that the persons were related. It is, therefore, likely that one purpose of the carving is to mark out the family relations as proof of the sons' right to the odal. 

The Odalrätt was a law of inheritance. Vikings had to show knowledge of their family line to have the full right to the odal and make the land impossible for other locals to claim.

You could also argue that the text is not clear enough to have served the function of an inheritance document and that its creators simply wanted to honor many people at the same time. 

Runestones were expensive to commission and were carved by paid professionals. The final sentence ("Visäte carved these runes") is a signature by the rune carver or runemaster. 

These were a skilled group of artisans who specialized in the carving and painting of runestones, and Visäte has signed more of his masterpieces throughout the Mälardalen region near Stockholm.

Runemasters traveled around the landscape with a group of accomplices, perhaps apprentices, to acquire commissions from affluent Vikings such as the Granby family, who would be regarded as 'upper middle class' today, although such terms did not exist back then.

The Swedish History Museum has laser-scanned another Visäte runestone and found out that the cuts were made by different people, suggesting that Visäte oversaw a whole workshop.

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