A close-up image of the Rok Runestone. Shutterstock.

Enigmatic Message Etched on the Most Famous Viking Monument Deciphered

This ancient Viking monolith speaks of the fear of a Climate Catastrophe.


A new interpretation of the inscription etched on the so-called Rök runestone, the most famous Viking rune monument, deals with the conflict between light and darkness, heat and cold, and life and death. Several passages etched on the Rök stone – the world’s most famous Viking Age runic monument – imply that the inscription references excellent battles. Researchers have been trying to connect the writing on the stone for more than one hundred years with heroic deeds in war.

But what if the legendary inscription has nothing to do with war? What if experts have been wrong in connecting the descriptions to mighty battles? A recent study by an interdisciplinary research team has offered an entirely new interpretation of the inscription etched on the Rök runestone.

The recently-proposed translation suggests the inscription on the stone deals with an entirely different battle: a battle between darkness and light, warmth and cold, life and death. The runestone is the most famous monolith of the Viking Age and is thought to have been erected around 800 CE. In addition to being one of the most well-known treasures of the Viking Age, it has proven to be one of the most difficult to understand.

An image of the message etched on the Rok Runestone. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

“The key to unlocking the inscription was the interdisciplinary approach. Without these collaborations between textual analysis, archaeology, history of religions, and runology, it would have been impossible to solve the riddles of the Rök runestone,” explained Per Holmberg, a professor in Swedish at the University of Gothenburg, who led the study.


The recent paper is based on a new archaeological analysis illustrating how badly Scandinavia suffered from an early climate catastrophe that brought lower-than-average temperatures, bad harvest, poor crops, extensive hunger, and mass extinctions. According to Bo Gräslund, a professor in Archaeology at Uppsala University, there are various reasons as to why people in the past may have feared a new climatic catastrophe of this kind.

The researcher details in a new study that before the legendary runestone was erected, carious natural events took place, which the people never forgot: powerful solar storms struck the Earth, causing the sky to turn into different, unusual, and dramatic shades of red. Crop fields eventually suffered from harsh and extensive summers, and solar eclipses were seen as an additional bad omen. These events may have led the people to raise fears of another Fimbulwinter, explains Bo Gräslund.

The recently presented interpretation of the runestones’ inscriptions suggests the message is made of nine riddles. The experts have proposed that the answer to five of the nine riddles on the Rok runestone is the Sun. One of the riddles penned down on the stone asks who was dead but now lives again.


The remaining four riddles etched on the surface of the legendary runestone are about Odin and his mighty warriors.”The powerful elite of the Viking Age saw themselves as guarantors for good harvests. The cult leaders held together the fragile balance between light and darkness. And finally, at Ragnarök, they would fight alongside Odin in the final battle for the light,” explained Olof Sundqvist, a professor in History of Religions at Stockholm University.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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