Recently, The Viking Herald reported on the dual anniversary celebrations at the runestone site near Vejle in central Jutland, Denmark, protected as part of a visitor and experience center, Kongernes Jelling – Home of the Viking Kings, alongside Jelling Church.
Denmark's most revered monument
The runestone was commissioned by the Danish monarch Harald Gormsson Blåtann, also known as Harald Bluetooth.
He unified Denmark and Norway, introduced Christianity, and, a millennium later, inadvertently gave his name to Bluetooth wireless technology.
It also bears the first written mention of Denmark as a country.
Given its significance to the nation, it is often referred to as the "Birth Certificate of Denmark" and is featured in every Danish passport.
Now, thanks to 3D technology and an expert team under the guidance of Lisbeth Imer of the National Museum of Denmark, further information can be gleaned from this national treasure.
Following their in-depth investigation, we now know the identity of the runestone carver, which also sheds light on the esteemed status of Bluetooth's mother, Thyra.
The Jelling stone was carved around 965.
Bluetooth, whose nickname is believed to have either derived from his dental hygiene or his love of blueberries, had the writings inscribed to record his accomplishments for posterity.
He also honors the memory of his parents, King Gorm and Queen Thyra.
The back of the stone shows a likeness of Christ, the oldest such depiction known to exist in Scandinavia.
The towering stone was placed at the exact midpoint between two burial mounds and forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, added to this illustrious global list in 1994.
In fact, there are multiple Jelling stones. Beside Bluetooth's striking memorial stands an older, smaller runestone erected by his father, King Gorm, in honor of his wife, Bluetooth's mother, Queen Thyra.
This was thought to have been put in place here around 1630.
A painted copy of the Jelling stone at the National Museum of Denmark showcases the oldest known likeness of Christ in Scandinavia. Photo: The National Museum of Denmark (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Clues in the carvings
Runologist Imer utilized 3D scans of several runestones, including these, to examine and analyze each groove made by the carver's chisel.
The inscriptions on the smaller Jelling stone are too eroded for researchers to pinpoint a specific carver.
To a degree, much like handwriting is unique and can identify its writer, runes, even when carved in stone, also bear the signature of the runemaster.
Every seasoned stonemason wields his chisel at a particular angle and delivers the hammer's blow with a distinct force. This can be observed in the angle of the carving marks and the spacing between them.
The motor skills honed in this craft are individualistic. As a result, researchers can now unveil the name of the runemaster behind the Jelling stone.
His name was Ravnunge-Tue. He is known to have carved two stones that mention Thyra. One stands in Læborg and was crafted in honor of the queen.
The other, southwest of Jelling, is located in Bække and describes how Ravnunge-Tue and two compatriots constructed Thyra's burial mound.
"The fact that we now know the name of the rune carver of the Jelling stone is incredible," says Lisbeth Imer.
"But what makes the discovery even more remarkable is that we know who Ravnunge-Tue's patron was. She was Queen Thyra of Jelling – mother of Harald Bluetooth and wife of Gorm the Old."
Imer, a senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, notes that this new discovery connects another individual to the Jelling dynasty. It also brings to light another interesting revelation.
The revelations from the Jelling stone are further enriched by the Læborg stone, another masterpiece by Ravnunge-Tue, highlighting Queen Thyra's role in Viking society. Photo: Hjart / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
"The Thyra Enigma"
The two Jelling stones mention Queen Thyra as the mother of Harald Bluetooth, wife of Gorm the Old, and "Denmark's salvation."
The name Thyra is also inscribed on two other runestones. The first is the Læborg stone, carved by Ravnunge-Tue in memory of Thyra. The second is Bække 1, which bears the inscription: "Ravnunge-Tue, Fundin, and Gnyple, these three made Thyra's mound."
For many years, researchers have debated whether the Queen Thyra of the Læborg stone is the same as the Jelling Thyra.
However, based on new research, the likelihood of two different Thyras is significantly reduced.
According to the researchers who conducted the analyses, Ravnunge-Tue carved both the Læborg stone and the Jelling stone. Lisbeth Imer believes that this also underscores the importance of Queen Thyra.
Queen Thyra is referenced on four runestones in total, more than any other individual from Viking Age Denmark. This distinction is especially significant given the rarity of runestones dedicated to women.
In contrast, both Harald Bluetooth and Gorm the Old are named on only two runestones each, with Gorm the Old's mentions always in relation to Thyra.
"This means that Queen Thyra was far more important than we previously assumed. She probably came from a nobler, older family than Gorm the Old, whom we usually refer to as the first King of Denmark."
"This is extremely interesting when it comes to understanding the power structure and the genesis of Denmark as a nation," says Lisbeth Imer.
All four runestones that mention Thyra are located in Southern Jutland, suggesting that her power was centered in this region, while it's believed that Gorm the Old originated from a different area.
"It is a wonderful insight. It relates to the 'birth certificate' of our country and the founding of early Denmark. Once again, our researchers have proved why we must continue to delve into the history of Denmark."
"That includes the part we already know because we are constantly finding new answers that increase our knowledge of the past," says Rane Willerslev, Director of the National Museum of Denmark.
The spectacular discovery forms the basis for a new Danish TV series – Gåden om Thyra (The Thyra Enigma) – which starts screening on DR TV this week.
Popular host and historian Cecilie Nielsen seeks clues about one of the most significant and enigmatic women in Danish history, Thyra. Her prominence might be further clarified by this innovative 3D research.
The findings guide Cecilie Nielsen towards an excavation from half a century ago, where Gorm the Old's remains were unearthed beneath Jelling Church, adjacent to the runestones.
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