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Gotlandic Picture Stones - The Online Edition

The Project Ancient Images 2.0

This digital online edition is the result of a major research project at Stockholm University and Gotlands Museum in Visby.


The rich imagery of the Gotlandic picture stones offer a unique source for studies of Late Iron Age material culture – in particular male and female dress, architecture, ship technology as well as carriages, weaponry and combat, hunting and fishing. Moreover, the picture stones from Gotland are an essential source of information on pre-Christian religion, depicting ritual and cultic acts like horse fights, drinking ceremonies, human sacrifices, and funeral rites. Occasionally, it is even possible to interpret the depictions with the help of written sources from medieval Iceland: Eddic and scaldic poetry, mainly recorded in manuscripts from the 13th century.

Outdated state of research
Although much research on the Gotlandic picture stones has been carried out since the early 1940s, most of this research, by necessity, has been based on Sune Lindqvist’s edition “Gotlands Bildsteine”. However, 75 years after the publication of this important book it became obvious that Lindqvist’s edition is outdated. Lindqvist’s edition only included 240 picture stones, which were the number of monuments known in the early 1940s. Today, more than 700 picture stones and fragments of picture stones are registered. Consequently, a new edition of all known Gotlandic picture stones was highly desirable. As the carvings are so faint, Lindqvist traced them directly on the stones with paint in order to make them visible. Thus, photos of the painted stones have been the basis for all research on the stones. Although Lindqvist was an excellent specialist, his perceptions of the images are sometimes doubtful and have been challenged several times. A more precise and up-to-date digital documentation of all the monuments was needed. This became even more obvious when Sigmund Oehrl conducted his pilot study which resulted in the two-volume book publication „Die Bildsteine Gotlands. Probleme und neue Wege ihrer Dokumentation, Lesung und Deutung“ (2019), and which was funded by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung and Gerda Henkel Stiftung. This study ultimately led to the project Ancient Images 2.0 and this new digital edition.

Funding and aims of the project
In 2018, Vetenskapsrådet granted our project application with a funding amount of almost 15 million SEK, within the call „Digitization and accessibility of cultural heritage“ (https://www.digarv.se/). The project had four major aims: 1.) Digitization of the entire corpus of Gotland’s picture stones, applying the most advanced 3D recording methods available, combining different technical approaches. 2.) Collecting literature, reports, early photographs and drawings, letters and other information kept in the archives. 3.) Creating an online edition, addressed to both the public and researchers. The edition is freely accessible, interactive, and bilingual (English and Swedish). It contains compact profiles of every single stone with brief texts, together with a reduced 3D model, which can directly be rotated and turned on screen. For academic use, more detailed texts are presented, containing all information about find contexts, object biography, chronology, inscriptions, ornamentation, interpretations, references et cetera. Full resolution digital data (in particular 3D models) as well as images and further archival material are available for download. 4.) Research (based on the new documentation), mainly on iconography, foreign influences and Scandinavian parallels, workshop traditions, and re-use of picture stones.

Future impact
This digital edition of the Gotlandic picture stones will, as we hope, fundamentally change the basis for any research on these monuments. For the first time, the stones are fully accessible. Moreover, the project will provide the monuments with the local, national and international attention that they deserve. Concerning the project’s long-term significance, it is also important to stress that many stones are still exposed to the elements without protection. Carvings are gradually being destroyed by rain, frost and other influences. The digital edition preserves these threatened monuments for future generations and provides an excellent basis for any means of protection of this vulnerable Swedish heritage.
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