Digitale Neu-Edition der gotländischen Bildsteine


PD Dr. habil. Sigmund Oehrl, Prof. Dr. Alexandra Pesch, Hannah Strehlau M.A.

In cooperation with the ZBSA, at the University of Stockholm and Gotland’s Museum in Visby, a new long-term project aiming for a new digital edition of Gotland’s picture stones has been started. It is funded by Vetenskapsrådet and Riksbankens jubilieumsfond.


Siehe auch:

The particularly rich imagery of the Gotlandic picture stones, dating to the period from ca. 400 to 1100 AD, offers a unique source for studies of Late Iron Age material culture – specifically male and female dress, architecture, ship technology as well as carriages, weaponry and combat, hunting and fishing. Most importantly, the picture stones from Gotland constitute an unparalleled source for information on pre-Christian cult and religion – on the earliest picture stones, human figures fighting dragon-like animals are depicted, echoing Migration Period myths, long before the existence of any literary tradition in the North. In some cases, Viking Period picture stones seem to represent ritual and cultic acts – horse fights, drinking ceremonies, human sacrifices, and funeral rites. Occasionally, it is even possible to interpret the depictions on the basis of written sources from medieval Iceland – eddic and skaldic poetry, mainly recorded in manuscripts from the 13th century.

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 However, 75 years after the publication of this important book it is quite clear that Lindqvist’s edition is outdated, and it is outdated for two reasons. Firstly, the edition only includes 240 picture stones, which were the number of monuments known in the early 1940s. However, today about 570 picture stones and fragments of these are registered. Consequently, a new edition of all Gotlandic picture stones is an urgent desideratum. Secondly, since the carved figures 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. Consequently, more precise and up-to-date documentation of all the monuments is highly needed.

The serious problems of documentation and new approaches to them were the topic of the previous research of Sigmund Oehrl, who has been employed at the ZBSA in 2017/18. This research can be regarded as a pilot study for the current cooperation project, which resulted in Oehrl’s recently published habilitation treatise at the University of Munich:

OEHRL 2019: Sigmund OEHRL, Die Bildsteine Gotlands. Probleme und neue Wege ihrer Dokumentation, Lesung und Deutung (Studia archaeologiae medii aevi 3). Friedberg 2019.

In order to realise the aim of a new digital edition of the entire corpus, Sigmund Oehrl applied for project funding at the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) within the call „Digitization and accessibility of cultural heritage collections“.

This application was granted in October 2018, with a funding amount of almost 15 million Swedish crowns and a runtime of 5 years. The project, based at Stockholm University and Gotlands Fornsal, has four major aims:

  1. Digitization of the entire corpus of Gotland’s picture stones, applying the most advanced 2.5D and 3D recording methods available, by 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 lay public and researchers. It is going to be freely accessible, interactive, and bilingual (English and Swedish). It will contain 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 will be 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 will be 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.

A digital edition of the Gotlandic picture stones will fundamentally change the basis for any research on these monuments. For the first time, the stones will become fully accessible and fully evaluable. Moreover, the project provides 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. A digital edition will preserve these threatened monuments for future generations and provide an excellent basis for any means of protection of this vulnerable Swedish heritage.

The ZBSA, as cooperation partner of the Swedish project, provides a PhD position, which is dedicated to the question of possible Mediterranean models of the earliest Gotlandic picture stones (Hannah Strehlau). In addition, ZBSA senior fellow Alexandra Pesch is member of the project’s international and multidisciplinary reference group.

OEHRL 2019: Sigmund OEHRL, Die Bildsteine Gotlands. Probleme und neue Wege ihrer Dokumentation, Lesung und Deutung (Studia archaeologiae medii aevi 3). Friedberg 2019.

OEHRL/FERGUSSON in print: Sigmund OEHRL, Mike FERGUSSON: A digital edition of the gotlandic picture stones. In: Babette LUDOWICI et al. (ed.), New Narratives for the First Millennium? Alte und neue Perspektiven der archäologischen Forschung zum 1. Jahrtausend. Neue Studien zur Sachsenforschung (in print).

Research clusters

Man and Artefact

Research Priorities

Visual History


Prof. Dr. Alexandra Pesch
Hannah Strehlau M.A.

In cooperation with

Riksbankens jubilieumsfond
Gotlands Museum
Viospatia, Visby