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Frans-Arne Stylegar:

The Tune stone and its archaeological context

Abstract Key-words: Runic stone, Tune stone, archaeology, Østfold, Migration period

The Tune stone has a special status for runologists, historians and archaeologists alike, mainly because of its long runic inscription which speaks of burial rites and inheritance in the Early Migration period. The runic stone was situated at the edge of a big mound which lay on the churchyard, and which in fact had the later Romanesque church tower built right on top of it. A connection between this mound and the runic stone is possible. The runic stone, the burial mound as well as the later church and churchyard were situated within an extensive prehistoric cemetery, probably going back to the Late Bronze Age, but with most of the burial monuments dating from the first millennium AD. The finds from this and other cemeteries in the area are outstanding gold, Roman imports and weapons mark it out as being of special importance in the Roman period, while the Tune ship burial and other princely graves point to the importance of the area still in the early 10th century.

Frans-Arne Stylegar, Vest-Agder fylkeskommune, PO Bo 517, N-4605 Kristiansand

1. The find-spot and its immediate surroundings

The Tune stone gets its name from the parish of Tune in Sarpsborg, Østfold fylke in southeast Norway. When the runic stone was first mentioned in surviving sources, in 1627, it situated at the chuchyard in Tune (fig 1). At that time, the runic stone was integrated into the stone wall fencing off the church yard. As reported to Ole Worm in Copenhagen by Dr. Peder Alfssøn of the Cathedral school in Christiania (Oslo), the stone stood on the western side of the church, where the church yard wall ran very close to the tower of the Medieval church. Thus, the stone was in fact situated directly at the then main entrance to the church.

Alfssøn asked local people about the runic stone and when it was put there, but nobody could tell. The wall itself might have been a relatively recent construction when Alfssøn visited Tune. The first Christian cemeteries in eastern Norway had other, less substantial types of fencing, and stone walls appear at town church yards around 1200, while at countryside churches they are later, often much later. There is, however, a rarely noticed detail on the drawing made by Alfssøn in in 1627 which indicates that the runic stone was positioned on the same spot before the wall was erected, as the drawing seems to show a low cairn or stone paving with the the stone in the middle/on top. Indeed, if this was the original place for the runic monument, the stone foundation could in fact have been a burial monument of the Roman or Migration periods, as both low cairns/mounds and stone pavings are rather widespread in Østfold in these periods (cf Løken 1974). The stone was moved to the northern entrance of the church in the mid-19th century, and brought to the museum in Oslo in 1857 (after Grønvik 1981).


Tune with the parish church, in the early Christian period one of only two ‘minster’ churches with responsibilities within the larger eastern Oslo fjord area, and churchyard is located on the so-called Ra moraine, c. 3 km to the west of modern-day Sarpsborg (fig 2 & 3). The Ra runs more or less parallel to the Oslo fjord from the Swedish border until Moss, where it crosses the fjord to Vestfold and then runs southwards to Larvik. The moraine with its easy-tilled soil has attracted farmers far back into prehistory, and many of the best known archaeological sites in the Oslo fjord area are in fact situated on the Ra. Thus, the Vestfold Ra begins at Borre with its impressive mounds and ends at Mølen, with its no less impressive stone cairns. It is no different in the east, and nowhere more pronounced than in Tune, and in particular in the vicinity of the parish church, which is or, to be more precise, used to be littered with mounds and other ancient monuments.

In historical times, until modern development changed the cultural landscape and the traditional settlement structure irrevocably, the two Tune farms, both of which belonged to the Crown, were situated to the west of the church – the farm East Tune, later Little Tune, only a stone’s throw from the church. A bit further east was the vicarage, formerly called Valaskjold (Valaskjalf). To the south of the church, where the terrain slopes down towards the old river-crossing Sandesund, were the Alvim farms, which in historical times were among the very largest farms in Østfold (Grøndahl 1988). The Glomma River encircles the whole Tune area, which is in fact a large island, covering some 80 sq km. To the north of Tune church is the Tunevannet lake, and the main road between Gothenburg and Oslo (c. 75 km further north) passed between the parish cemetery and the lake until just a few years ago, when it was somewhat modified. The most recent archaeological surveys and excavations in the area took place because of this road construction works (Bårdseth 2007a-c, 2008).

Being a large island in a district characterised by partly navigable rivers and river systems, Tune was always important for communications land and sea borne. The main land route through Østfold ran along the Ra moraine, where the main road still is. The Glomma River was navigable all the way from the Oslo fjord up to the major waterfall Sarpsfossen at Sarpsborg. If one needed to either bring boats or cargo further inland, one had to find a way past the waterfall, and Eidet in Tune was the preferred portage route over land (Stylegar 2003a). Today the Glomma River has two arms, both of which reaches the Oslo fjord in Fredrikstad. Only the eastern and main arm is navigable for larger vessels. In the Iron Age there was, however, a third river arm further west, and this would probably also have been navigable, thus making the river harbours near Tune even more important (Johansen 1994).

Tune church, a Gothic stone church with a Romanesque western tower demolished in 1864, was originally erected in the early 12th century on the periphery of an extensive Iron Age mound cemetery at the modern-day farms of Tune and Grålum. This cemetery, which stretched along the Ra moraine for more than 1 km, was perhaps the largest prehistoric cemetery in all of Østfold. The density of burial monuments is amazingly large in the area, and other cemeteries are situated near by, like the large Opstad cemetery a bit further to the south and a recently excavated cemetery at Bjørnstad a short stretch further west, as well as the Kulåsparken cemetery closer to Sarpsborg. Both the Tune-Grålum and the Opstad cemeteries consist of several clusters of burials, each with a myriad of barrows, stone settings, stone pavings, and singular raised stones (fig 4). While some of the very substantial number of original monuments are intact, most are gone victims of agricultural development, city expansion and modern road construction.


The archaeologist Anders Lorange, at that time a young student, gave a glimpse of what the area used to look like when he wrote in 1869: ‘What countless ancient remains that are to be seen here, I don’t think anyone to this day has imagined. Burial mounds in the hundreds, cairns, stone settings, standing stones and rock carvings are spread everywhere where the plough has not yet reached’ (Lorange 1869:82).

Even the churchyard at Tune counted prehistoric monuments, and not only the runic stone and the supposed cairn or stone setting it was formerly standing on. Remains of Late Iron Age burials have for instance been discovered at the church yard on several occasions, even if most of them came to light while preparing new graves in areas that are less likely to have been part of the original and considerably smaller Medieval church yard. But the antiquarian L. D. Klüwer, who documented a part of the Tune - Grålum cemetery during a visit in 1823, noted a substantial burial mound situated just below the western tower of the church. This mound was noted later by N. Nicolaysen, as well, but it was unfortunately not excavated when the old church was demolished and a new on built in its place in 1864 (Nicolaysen 1862:16). It might, as in the case of Hørning, have been a case of ’christianizing’ a heathen ancestor by incorporating his or her barrow in the new, Christian structure (Krogh & Voss 1961). There is another point to be noted here, as well. On Klüwer’s admittedly rather sketchy 1823 map (fig 5) this mound takes up the whole area between the tower and the church yard wall. Klüwer states that the mound is 24 skritt wide, i.e. 19-20 m (Sognnes 1984).

Since this is in the same area where Alfssøn observed the runic stone 200 years earlier, the stone must have been positioned near, or even at, this mound. It could even be argued that the now destroyed mound was the final resting-place of the Wodurid mentioned in the inscription! We cannot know for sure, but the suggested link between the runic monument, the mound and the later church tower is indeed thought-provoking.

2. A central landscape

When discussing the archaeological context of the runic stone from Tune, it is neccessary to start with an old idea that has been strenghtened, but in some ways also modified, during recent year’s fieldwork. Over the last one hundred years or so, historians, archaeologists and onomasticians have argued often based on their own specific source-material that the Tune area was a special one, and one showing signs of having been central in different ways in the Late Iron Age (Brøgger 1922, Steinnes 1951, Stylegar 1998).

Today, following excavations and studies over the last 40 years, there can be no doubt that the Tune area shares many of those qualities that archaeologists nowadays associate with a ‘central place’. A case could indeed be made that this is from an archaeological perspective the best known ’central place’ in the whole of Norway. Here, uniquely in this country so far, archaeologists have uncovered both extraordinary burials and some of the likewise extraordinary settlements that the dead were associated with. These remains do not date to one shorter phase alone, which makes the situation very different from some of the excavated premier sites with both rich burials and settlement finds for instance in western Norway, but cover a time-span from the Early Roman period until and including the Viking Age longer, if we include the establishment in the early 11th century of the town of Borg (now: Sarpsborg) in the close vicinity (3 km) of Tune, which by some researchers is being linked to the old ‘central place’ in a somewhat similar way that Uppåkra and Lund in Scania have been linked, to name but one example.


The Tune area has an outstanding density of finds from the Early Neolithic on (Johansen 1976), and the huge cemeteries on the Ra moraine were probably used already in the Bronze Age (Løken 1977). But it is particularly from the Early Roman period onwards that the finds in the area cluster, and this is also when the rich graves begin to appear. Still, in reality we are describing a more extensive area than Tune in the strict sense when discussing some of the most important archaeological finds from this part of Østfold. While the vicinity of the parish church is indeed the focal point, both in a topographical sense and when it comes to the sheer number of finds from the first millennium AD, a number of the most outstanding finds are in fact from a larger area centering on Tune. In a certain sense, then, it would be better to speak of a central landscape than a central place. This is of course the case also for many of the other important Late Iron Age complexes in south Scandinavia, but the distances vary considerably. In the Tune case, the extremely rich Viking Age finds (Tune ship grave and chamber grave, both from the Haugen farm) on the other side of the Visterflo arm of the Glomma River are situated some 5 km from Tune church. The distance between Tune church and the large and well-published Iron Age cemeteries at Hunn and Store-Dal is c. 8 km, while a distance of 15 km separates Tune chuch and the recently excavated Late Roman period settlement site at Missingen, with its 60 m long hall-building.

This may seem a bit arbitrary; after all, where do ‘Tune’ end? As I see it, it becomes clearer if we look at the bigger scheme of things. The archaeological complex around the Glomma estuary from the Roman period to the Viking Age is surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of settled land with sites that are relatively ordinary. In East Norway there are clusters that for the sake of argument can be compared to ‘Tune’ in this sense in two areas only, if we look at the Roman period: the Uplands centred on Lake Mjøsa and the southern part of Vestfold, while there are other clusters further west, like in Jæren near Stavanger, in Sogn and in Trøndelag. Shifting focus to the Late Iron Age, only a small number of areas in Norway stand out in a way comparable to ‘Tune’ – southern Vestfold, Avaldsnes/Karmøy and Nordfjord.

Going back to the core area of Tune, there are several features that point towards its special status through the first millennium. Not all of them can be dealt with here, but I would like to mention a couple. Let us first look at burials, then at some recent detector finds and finally at settlement sites.

Rich burial finds The extensive cemeteries in Tune have yielded many important finds from the whole period (Pedersen 2003, Stylegar 2003b-c). Chamber graves, for instance, are known from the Late Roman period, the Migration period and the Viking Age. It has been pointed out that Østfold, and in particular the area around the estuary of the Glomma River, is the ‘classic region’ for Roman period burials in Norway. Hardly anywhere else are the finds from this period as plentiful as they are here. In particular with regard to Roman period imports the area is in a class of its own. High-status drinking equipment made of bronze or glass have been found in several graves at Tune, and to the artefact finds from the Tune Grålum cemetery belongs a now lost silver cup, seemingly a parallel to the famous one from Hoby in Lolland, Denmark (Johansen 1977). These and other finds reveal close connections between Zeeland and the Danish Isles and the lower Glomma region in the Roman period. Gold objects (fibulas, beads, berlocks) have been salvaged from a number of burials.

From the Late Roman and Migration periods are richly equipped burials, including one from the Opstad cemetery with Roman-influenced belt furnishings and a partly robbed chamber grave from


Rostad with a pair of clasps made from solid gold. Several finds from the early Merovingian periods show similarities with objects belonging to the so-called ‘Åker complex’, named after a rich early 7th century find from the Lake Mjøsa area.

In the Viking Age a number of princely graves from the Visterflo area in nearby Rolvsøy stand out. In

1867 the famous Tune ship was excavated from a large mound. The ship has been dendro dated to c. AD 900. Although much of the grave-goods are lost, the information we do have indicate that a male person was put to rest in the ship, together with a wast array of objects. The burial have many parallels to the contemporary Gokstad ship burial in Vestfold. Some time before the Tune ship was excavated, another burial was opened nearby. This time a man had been interred in a huge wooden chamber with many burial offerings, including an assortment of exclusive textiles. The chamber grave

from the Haugen farm is contemporary with the Tune ship burial.

Detector finds and production sites In recent years, metal detecting have also added considerably to our knowledge of the Tune area in the Iron Age, and some of the objects found are unique in Norwegian respects. This includes an imported bronze casket mount from the Roman period, as well as some Merovingian period objects. The latter are of special importance, since there are as yet few known monuments from this period

in Østfold.

Metal production is a feature of many Late Iron Age ‘central places’ in South Scandinavia. When it comes to gold-smithing, Kent Andersson’s study suggests that there existed local workshops in South East Norway in the Early Roman period (Andersson 1995). Since the Glomma estuary is the only obvious centre in East Norway in the early part of the Roman period, it is a logical conclusion that these workshops also were situated here, even if they have not been found so far. The same goes for Roman period pottery production, incidentally: Fine pottery from this district was belived to be imports from Jutland because of stylistic similarities, but analyses of the clay used for making the pots shows that they were actually produced locally, though perhaps by potters from Jutland (Resi


A Late Migration period house foundation was excavated in Tune (Tingvoll) in 1990, and in the near

vicinity of the building was found extensive traces of smithing activities (slags, clay bellows-nozzles

etc) (Andersen 1990, Bårdseth 2006).

From the Viking Age stem detector finds of lead bars as well as finds of crucibles for making silver ingots. These finds indicate that substantial productive sites are to be expected in Tune.

Settlements Agricultural settlements from the first millennium AD have been investigated many places in Tune over the last 40 years. Recent rescue excavations have also resulted in a number of prehistoric fields being found and studied, including some contemporary with the Tune stone (Bårdseth 2009a).

Two sites out of the ordinary deserves special mentioning, however. At Missingen, some 10 km from Tune church, two succeeding houses dating to the Late Roman period has been investigated. They are remarkable for their size the oldest house was 61 m long and 8 m wide, while the younger one was 50 m long. It has recently been suggested that the longest of the two houses may have had a second floor. Uncommon for Norway, two Roman silver denarii were found, one in each house. The longest house is being interpreted as a hall (Bårdseth 2007a, 2009, Bårdseth ed. 2008).


Much closer to Tune church another presumed hall has been partly excavated. It dates to the Viking Age and, again, is of very large size. The three-aisled building was more than 9 m wide and had an estimated length of c. 50 m. Special features included thick oak planks serving as foundations for the roof-supporting posts in the huge central room. The Bjørnstad hall, situated c. 1,5 km from the church, show obvious similarities to other south Scandinavian hall-buildings, including the Great hall at Lejre (Bårdseth 2007b).

As yet we are still missing settlement sites contemporary with the Tune stone in the central area. The house excavated at nearby Tingvoll in 1990 was for a while thought to be similar to ‘special’ buildings like Dejbjerg, Dankirke or the smallest of the halls at Gudme, but as recent excavations in Østfold have shown, the features (like the considerable width) once thought to be extraordinary in the Tingvoll case, actually occur regularly in the Oslofjord region (Bårdseth 2006).


The Tune stone has a special status for runologists, historians and archaeologists alike, mainly because of its long runic inscription which speaks of burial rites and inheritance in the Early Migration period. The stone was first noted in writing by Peder Alfssøn in 1627, and at that time it was positioned in the churchyard wall at Tune church. The runic stone may have been standing on a low cairn or stone paving, but it was also situated at the edge of a big mound which lay on the churchyard, and which in fact had the later Romanesque church tower built right on top of it. It is tempting to suggest that there might be a connection between this mound and the runic stone. The houses belonging to the Tune farms were in the modern period situated only a stone’s throw from the runic stone and the church.

Furthermore, the runic stone, the burial mound as well as the later church and churchyard were situated within an extensive prehistoric cemetery, probably going back to the Late Bronze Age, but with most of the burial monuments dating from the first millennium AD. Hundreds of mounds and other kinds of monuments make the Tune Grålum cemetery the largest one in Østfold, and maybe even the largest one in East Norway. The finds from this and other cemeteries in the area are outstanding gold, Roman imports and weapons mark it out as being of special importance in the Roman period, while the Tune ship burial and other princely graves point to the importance of the area still in the early 10th century. It could be argued that the founding of the town of Borg (modern- day Sarpsborg) only 3 km from the central area near the church in the early 11th century is evidence of a continuing central role for Tune in the early Christian period.

In recent years, both metal detector finds and a number of excavated houses and fields from the first millennium has improved our knowledge of the Tune area considerably. In nearby Råde two very large buildings, one of them interpreted as a hall building and both of them dating to the Late Roman period, have been investigated. With its length of 61 m, the largest of these two houses is also among the very biggest Roman period houses known in Scandinavia. Closer to Tune, and in fact situated at the opposite end of the Tune Grålum cemetery from the church and the runic stone, another hall building was recently excavated at Bjørnestad. This c. 50 m long and more than 9 m wide three-aisled building has several features in common with well-known south Scandinavian halls, including the Great hall at Lejre.




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Fig 1: P. Alfssøn’s 1627 drawing of the Tune stone.

Fig 2: Tune’s place in S Norway. Drawing: F.-A. Stylegar.

Fig 3: Tune and its local context. Drawing: F.-A. Stylegar.

Fig 4: L. Klüwer’s 1823 map showing mounds in the surroundings of Tune church.

Fig 5: The mound in the churchyard. Klüwer map, detail.


Fig. 1

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Fig. 2

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Fig. 3

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Fig. 4

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Fig. 5

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