In November 2019, the University of Edinburgh welcomed a 1.3 tonne granite runestone to its new home outside 50 George Square.
The runestone, thought to be over 1,000 years old, was previously in Princes Street Gardens however was largely unknown and inaccessible to residents and visitors alike due to its position behind a fence high on a steep hillside just below the north wall of Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade.
In early 2017, during the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland started discussions and worked with several partner organisations to conserve and move the runestone to a safer location in central Edinburgh, in order to make the ancient carved stone accessible and visible to everyone all year round. The new location chosen was outside the University of Edinburgh’s Scandinavian Studies Department at 50 George Square.
In December 2017, experts from AOC Archaeology carefully excavated and lifted the runestone out of the ground. The runestone was scanned, assessed and conserved.
The conservation assessment found that the stone did not appear to have undergone any recent maintenance and surfaces were soiled with bird guano, biological growth and dirt, as well as blackened by particulate air pollution. Whilst these were detracting to the stone’s appearance, they were found unlikely to cause any significant decay to the granite.
Dr Simon Gilmour, Director of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland said “As a cultural artefact the clarity with which the runes can be read is highly significant and as such it is important that the stone is well maintained and cared for.”
The runestone has distinctive features similar to 18 other stones in Sweden, which are attributed to or signed by a runemaster called Erik. The majority of runestones are located in Scandinavia, often memorials to the dead, and usually brightly coloured when first made. When translated into English the Edinburgh runestone reads “Ari raised the stone in memory of Hjalmr, his father. May God help his spirit.”
The Small Works and Minor Projects team within the Estates Department assisted with the relocation plans whilst the Landscape team prepared the area outside the Department of European Languages and Cultures at 50 George Square. Further landscaping will take place in the New Year.
The new site is easily accessible and situated beside benches. The carvings will face the building protecting it from the worst of the elements. Signage will also be put in place to explain the history of the runestone.