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27. September 2023

New Research from the National Museum of Denmark Reveals Who Carved the Jelling Stone

After taking 3D scans, researchers can now reveal who carved the runes on the iconic Jelling Stone. The discovery shows that Queen Thyra was far more important than was previously assumed.

Researchers, including those from the National Museum of Denmark, can now disclose who carved the runes on the Jelling Stone. To an extent, just as handwriting is individual and can identify the owner of the writing, it turns out that, even though they were carved in stone, runes also reflect the runemaster.

3D scans of runestones enable researchers to gain a close-up view of traces of the carving process. This means they can tell the carving technique of the different rune stones apart. Every experienced stonemason holds his chisel at a certain angle and strikes the hammer with a specific force: this is visible in the angle of the traces of the carving and the distance between them. The motor function developed in such work is individual. Consequently, the researchers can now reveal the name of the runemaster who carved the Jelling Stone.

His name was Ravnunge-Tue: a Viking Age rune carver. Although few people will have heard of him, he is quite well-known in professional circles.

We know his name from the Læborg Stone situated 30 kilometres southwest of Jelling. The same carving technique that can be traced in the runes on the Jelling Stone are also evident on the Læborg Stone. The text on the Læborg stone reads: “Ravnunge-Tue carved these runes in memory of Thyra, his queen”.

Queen Thyra’s power revealed

Lisbeth Imer, a runologist and senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, explains that the discovery is interesting in itself, because it links yet another person to the Jelling dynasty. But what makes it particularly interesting is the fact that it also involves another interesting revelation.

Together with Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt of Riksantikvarieämbetet in Stockholm and Henrik Zedig of Länsstyrelsen in Västergötland, she conducted the research, the results of which will be published in October in the renowned academic journal Antiquity.

“The fact that we now know the name of the rune carver of the Jelling Stone is incredible; but what makes the discovery even more amazing is the fact that we know who Ravnunge-Tue’s boss was. She was Queen Thyra of Jelling – mother of Harald Bluetooth, wife of Gorm the Old,” says Lisbeth Imer.

The two Jelling stones mention Queen Thyra as the mother of Harald Bluetooth, wife of Gorm the Old and ‘Denmark’s salvation’. However, the name Thyra also appears on two other rune stones: the Læborg Stone, which Ravnunge-Tue carved in memory of Thyra; and Bække 1, which bears the inscription, ‘Ravnunge-Tue and Fundin and Gnyple, these three made Thyra’s mound.’

For many years, researchers have been debating whether the Queen Thyra of the Læborg Stone is the same as the Jelling Thyra.

However, based on the new research, the likelihood of two different Thyras is significantly less, because, according to the researchers who conducted the analyses, Ravnunge-Tue carved both the Læborg Stone and the Jelling Stone. Lisbeth Imer believes that this also highlights just how important Queen Thyra was.

Queen Thyra is mentioned on a total of four rune stones: more than any other person in Viking-Age Denmark. This is particularly noteworthy, since rune stones erected in honour of women are rare. By comparison, Harald Bluetooth and Gorm the Old are each mentioned on just two rune stones, and Gorm the Old is only mentioned in connection with Thyra.

“This means that Queen Thyra was far more important than we previously assumed. She probably came from a nobler, older family than Gorm the Old, whom we usually refer to as the first King of Denmark. This is extremely interesting when it comes to understanding the power structure and the genesis of Denmark as a nation,” says Lisbeth Imer.

All four rune stones that mention Thyra are located in Southern Jutland, implying that her power was based in this area, while Gorm the Old may have come from elsewhere.

“It is a wonderful insight. It relates to the ‘birth certificate’ of our country and the founding of early Denmark. Once again, our researchers have proved why we must continue to delve into the history of Denmark. That includes the part we already know, because we are constantly finding new answers that increase our knowledge of the past,” says Rane Willerslev, Director of the National Museum of Denmark.

The spectacular discovery forms the basis for a new Danish TV series – Gåden om Thyra (The Thyra Enigma) – which starts screening on DR TV today.

The researchers based their analyses on scans of seven runestones in Midwest Jutland: Bække 1 and 2, Læborg, Horne, Randbøl and older scans of the two Jelling stones.

The runes on the small Jelling stone are too worn for the researchers to identify the individual rune carver. They cannot confirm whether Ravnunge-Tue also carved this runestone.

The Jelling Stone

Featuring in every Danish passport, the Jelling Stone is known as the ‘birth certificate’ of Denmark, in which, 1,000 years ago, Harald Bluetooth boasted that he had united Denmark and Norway, and converted the Danes to Christianity. In 1994, the runestone was the main justification for Jelling’s inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It was the first site in Denmark to be granted that honour. The stone still stands on its original site. There are copies of the Jelling Stone all over the world: from Tokyo to Los Angeles.


Lisbeth Imer, runologist and senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark, +45 4120 6113,

Adam Bak, curator at Kongernes Jelling, 4120 6332,