The Rök Runestone is one of the most famous runestones, featuring the longest known runic inscription in stone. It is considered the first piece of written Swedish literature and thus it marks the beginning of the history of Swedish literature.
The stone was discovered built into the wall of the church in the 19th century and removed from the church wall a few decades later. The church was built in the 12th century, and it was common to use rune stones as building material for churches. The stone was probably carved in the early 9th century, judging from the main runic alphabet used ("short-twig" runes) and the form of the language. It is covered with runes on five sides, all except the base part that was to be put under ground. A few parts of the inscription are damaged, but most of it remains readable.
The name "Rök Stone" is something of a tautology: the stone is named after the village, "Rök", but the village is probably named after the stone, "Rauk" or "Rök" meaning "skittle-shaped stack/stone" in Old Norse.
The stone is unique in a number of ways. It contains a fragment of what is believed to be a lost piece of Norse mythology. It also makes a historical reference to Ostrogothic king (effectively emperor of the western Roman empire) Theodoric the Great. It contains the longest extant pre-Christian runic inscription - around 760 characters, and it is a virtuoso display of the carver's mastery of runic expression.
The inscription is partially encrypted in two ways; by displacement and by using special cipher runes. The inscription is intentionally challenging to read, using kennings in the manner of Old Norse skaldic poetry, and demonstrating the carver's command of different alphabets and writing styles (including code). The obscurity may perhaps even be part of a magic ritual.References:
The Externsteine (Extern stones) is a distinctive sandstone rock formation located in the Teutoburg Forest, near the town of Horn-Bad Meinberg. The formation is a tor consisting of several tall, narrow columns of rock which rise abruptly from the surrounding wooded hills. Archaeological excavations have yielded some Upper Paleolithic stone tools dating to about 10,700 BC from 9,600 BC.
In a popular tradition going back to an idea proposed to Hermann Hamelmann in 1564, the Externsteine are identified as a sacred site of the pagan Saxons, and the location of the Irminsul (sacral pillar-like object in German paganism) idol reportedly destroyed by Charlemagne; there is however no archaeological evidence that would confirm the site's use during the relevant period.
The stones were used as the site of a hermitage in the Middle Ages, and by at least the high medieval period were the site of a Christian chapel. The Externsteine relief is a medieval depiction of the Descent from the Cross. It remains controversial whether the site was already used for Christian worship in the 8th to early 10th centuries.
The Externsteine gained prominence when Völkisch and nationalistic scholars took an interest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This interest peaked under the Nazi regime, when the Externsteine became a focus of nazi propaganda. Today, they remain a popular tourist destination and also continue to attract Neo-Pagans and Neo-Nazis.