Hovgården is an archaeological site on the island of Adelsö, in Lake Mälaren. Together with Birka, on the adjacent island of Björkö, they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The UNESCO website states:
“The Birka archaeological site is located on Björkö Island in Lake Mälar and was occupied in the 9th and 10th centuries. Hovgården is situated on the neighbouring island of Adelsö. Together, they make up an archaeological complex which illustrates the elaborate trading networks of Viking-Age Europe and their influence on the subsequent history of Scandinavia. Birka was also important as the site of the first Christian congregation in Sweden, founded in 831 by St Ansgar.”
The Hovgården site includes several royal burial mounds, the ruins of a royal dwelling place and an Urnes Style runestone that makes reference to a king by the name of Håkon
a The Royal Burial Mounds
The large royal burial mounds lie to the north of the medieval church. The largest of the mounds is 46 meters in diameter and 6.5 meters high.
Only one of the mounds has been excavated. This mound, traditionally known as Skopintull, is the westernmost of the mounds. It was excavated in 1917, and was found to be a was a very complex and rich double cremation grave dated to the 9th century.
The mound covered a cairn which held a bronze bucket which held the cremated bones of a man (over 50 years old) and a woman (30-50 years old). On the top of the vessel was located strand of dark brown human hair.
Among the human bones were found remains of a cat, cattle, seven dogs, three horses two pigs and sheep/goat. In the grave were also burnt bones of hen (Gallus gallus domesticus), greylag goose (Anser anser) / domestic goose (Anser anser domesticus), white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo), northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), common crane (Grus grus), Eurasian teal (Anas crecca), bird belonging to Anatidae family and undetermined species of bird(s).
In the cremation layer, which surrounding metal bucket, were fragments of textiles with golden thread, numerous bronze mounts, multicoloured glass beads, antler/bone/horn combs and several bone game pieces.
Alsnö hus first appears in historical records in 1200 as mansionem regiam Alsnu, which implies a house of more than ordinary proportions.
Seventy years later, King Magnus Barnlock had the old fortress replaced by a summer residence built in brick. This was a building definitely built for comfort, rather than military purposes. In 1279 the Ordinance of Alsnö (Alsnö stadga), which is often seen as the foundation of Swedish nobility as a separate class, was made here.
By the end of the 14th century, the building was in a ruined state, and little remains today. An excavation carried out in 1916-18 found large numbers of crossbow bolts, which may suggest that the building might have been attacked by followers of Albert von Mecklenburg.
A reconstruction drawing of King Magnus Barnlock’s summer residence
The Håkon Stone (Uppland Runic Inscription 11)
U11 is an eleventh century runestone which is situated close to the ruins of the old royal dwelling at Alsnö hus near Hovgården. It is decorated in the Urnes Style with serpents enclosing the runic text.
The runestone makes reference to three persons: Tolir, Gylla, and Håkon.
Tolir is described as a ‘bryte’ which is Old Swedish for a thrall who acted as a foremen over other thralls. The word ‘bryte’ comes from ‘to break’, and has the meaning of breaking bread, so ‘bryte’ may refer to a person who serves out food.
Gylla was Tolir’s wife.
Håkon probably refers to Håkan the Red (Håkan Röde) who was king of Sweden for a few years in the second half of the eleventh century.
raþ| |þu : runaʀ : ret : lit : rista : toliʀ : bry[t]i : i roþ : kunuki : toliʀ : a(u)k : gyla : litu : ris… …- : þaun : hion : eftiʀ …k : merki srni… haku(n) * (b)aþ : rista
Rað þu runaʀ. Rett let rista Toliʀ bryti i roði kunungi. Toliʀ ok Gylla letu ris[ta] …, þaun hion æftiʀ [si]k(?) mærki … Hakon bað rista.
You read the runes! Right let cut them Tolir, bailiff in Roden, to the king. Tolir and Gylla let carve (these runes), this pair after themself as a memorial… Håkon bade carve.