Halristinger (Helleristinger)

& Burial Sites in Østfold

For the past eight years my consuming interest has been in runes and the history of the period during which runes were used in northern Europe, from about 200 CE to 1400 CE. During my research I discovered hundreds of websites on the Internet related to runes--generally from a "new age" perspective. While I am interested in the esoteric uses of runes in divination and magic, I'm even more interested in the development of their use as writing and cultural tools.

I have spent hundreds of hours reading books and websites on the World Wide Web. I encountered many references to a highly praised Norwegian website, "Arild Hauge's Runes and Viking Pages", but the hyperlinks were no longer working. I was determined to find the website if it still existed. Using HotBot, a "search engine", I skimmed through over 800 runic website references before I found the new URL. Arild's website is truly the most extensive I have ever seen on the subject of runes and related history. Most of the website is written in Norwegian, but even the smaller English section is outstanding.

Arild Hauge and I began corresponding by e-mail. I'm gratified to have been able to assist him in translating some more of his Norwegian web pages into English. We still have a long way to go.

Mom and I started making plans to visit our relatives in the Oslo area during September 1998. Arild, who lives in Oslo, offered to be my guide to some of the sites where stone picture carvings could be seen. While Sweden has thousands of rune stones, there are relatively few in Norway. However, there are many bronze-age and iron-age stone picture carvings.

"Helleristinger" (sometimes referred to as "Halristinger" in English archeological texts), the ancient stone carvings, are thought to be precursors to development of runic symbols.

The first site we saw was on a farm in Valler (i Bærum), only a few miles from from where my relatives live. A few days later, Arild and I drove southeast of Oslo into Østfold. Along highway 110, between Fredrikstad and Skjeberg, we stopped to explore several marked historical sites on private land where ancient burial mounds and stone carvings had been found.

In addition to burial mounds, I was surprised to discover that the burial sites included "steinsetninger", stone circles much like those found in Great Britain. I learned that there are many such stone circles in the Scandinavian countries.

a stone circle burial site
A stone circle, a burial site.

another stone circle burial site
Another "steinsetning" stone circle.

We also explored a large stone burial mound erected on the top of a 300 feet high hill. The stone mound at the summit rises another 25 feet. Every one of the thousands of heavy stones used to build the mound had to have been carried up that hill. From this height we would have seen for miles around if there had not been such a heavy growth of mature trees. We assume that the VIP buried here must have been master of all that could have be seen from the hilltop.

Stone burial mound
Stone burial mound at the top of the hill.

Arild on top of the burial mound.Looking down into the mound opening
Arild climbed to the top of the mound and took this picture looking down into the open tomb.

At other sites we saw examples of carved picture stones. Most have been discovered by accident. The carvings are weather-worn and faint. When discovered, they could be observed only when the light hit them from an angle, or by touch. Traces of red pigment were found in the chiseled areas so they have been painted again with traditional red.

Arild Hauge and stone carvings

The upright sticks are vertical staves of the hull frame, not representing men, as I had surmised.

Ship carvings
It looks to me like there is a man overboard! Note the oval shelter on two of the ships, and the elaborate extended prows and sterns.

More ships and men
There appear to be men, animals, and a bird carved on this rock. The ships are very different, too.

Various depictions and symbols
Here we see what appear to be wagons as well as ships and animals. Some of the men seem to be holding shields and weapons. The solid circles are shallow pits, believed to be receptacles for small offerings to be laid on the stone. The lowest "boat" in the center (below what may be a wagon) seems to have either sled runners or outriggers. Is it a boat or a sleigh?

Ships and symbols

Note the tree. It may represent Yggdrasil, the world-tree. The ships again seem to have outriggers, although none of the salvaged ships discovered to date have such outriggers. The basketball-shaped figure is curious. We saw crossed sun-circles but this is different with its two vertical lines.

Most of the carvings we saw were of ships and seafaring activities. When they were carved the sea coast was quite near. Since the sea level has dropped as much 200 feet since the period during which the stones were carved, one has to wonder how many more carvings still lie buried in the soil covered hills that are now many miles from the coast.

I was awed by these ancient sites. Why were the carvings made? Do they tell stories of sea voyages, trade, fishing and and battles? What do the other symbols mean? I need to get back to the books again.

See more carvings on
Jón Júlíus Filippusson's
Stone Carving Pages
and on
Arild Hauge's
Helleristinger i Norden