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This text is originally from a now defunct website from Länsmuseet på Gotland

The Picture Stone from Hunninge at Klinte

This stone is one of the best preserved, figurally rich picture stones from the 8th and 9th centuries. It was recovered from the ground where it was lying face down, thus protected from weathering.

The interpretation of the figures on the Hunninge stone is debateable, the prime question being whether they should be read from the top down or vice versa. As opposed to other large stones with their jumbled figures, the depictions on the Hunninge stone are distributed among clearly defined panels. This method of narrating in a series of scenes with a coherent story – similar to present day comic strips – might be said to be the equivalent of the ancient Nordic epic poetry with a main thread running through the story. Since the figures at the top of the stone can clearly be connected to Valhall, the final “heaven” for heroes who died in battle, it would be feasible to presume that the story ends there.

In the bottom right hand corner of the pictorial face a battle is waging. A farm with several houses and surrounded by a palisade is being defended by men armed with bows. In readiness for the fight, the cattle have been led away to shelter and tethered up in the enclosure. In the left hand corner are the attackers, some of them unfortunately almost totally abrased, but one man can be clearly seen with bow in hand. The man seems to be falling backwards (hit?) and it might be his bird-like soul that is leaving the body behind him. Or is it Oden’s spirit in the form of a bird who is somehow intervening in the battle? A woman with a serpent-like object in her hand also seems to be involved in the event – can she be a witch? Might it be a valkyrie on the scene of the battle?

In the scene above can be found a motif that is well-known from the Edda. In the poems about Sigurd the Dragon Slayer, the story is told of Gunnar, who married Brynhild. She was already betrothed to Sigurd. Sigurd, however, had been given an amnesial potion, so he actually assisted his friend Gunnar in marrying Brynhild. Sigurd himself married Gunnar’s sister Gudrun. This complicated story ends with Gunnar being thrown into a snake pit, while his sister stands by watching. An alternative interpretation is that the motif portrays the punished god Loke, chained to a cliff beneath a snake dropping venom. Beside him, his faithful wife Sigyn is collecting the venom in a bowl.

The centre panel contains the recurrent ship, the actual or the symbolic funerary ship, here sailing forth in the foaming sea. The sail is rectangular and chequered, woven in long strips that have been plaited together diagonally to produce a lozenge effect, rather like splint baskets. This construction produced a sturdy sail, well-able to withstand strong winds. The ship is crewed by a number of men with pointed beards, convex helmets and protective shields.

That the final voyage to Valhall would be undertaken by boat was quite obvious in the minds of all Gotlanders. Valhall was the great hall in Asgard, where Oden lived and whither the dead and honourable warriors came. With the valkyries in continuous attendance the combatants in this ‘paradise’ were invited to happy hunts, battle games and feasts of pork from the boar Särimner.

image: Länsmuseet på Gotland
(click on the image to enlarge)