Ales Stenar, A Legacy of Stone
By : Luther Kovac
During a gathering, I had a conversation with one of the Folk about ancient ruins that I saw in Europe, and was told that many of the Norse structures were gone because they were built with wood. This is something that I had suspected but hadn’t given a lot of thought to. Always interested in the ways of my European ancestors, I decided to look into it.
I found some very interesting things, not the least of which was that the Norse were far from the only civilization on the continent whose structures were erased by time. England’s Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous stone circle in the world today, but few people know that evidence of a of a timber circle was found approximately 1.2 miles northeast of it and is referred to as Woodhenge. Only the foundation remains. Like other sites throughout Europe, the wood has long since returned to the earth.
Scandinavia has its own stone circles, or “stone ships” as some variations are called. Overlooking the Baltic Sea rests Ales Stenar, also referred to as Ale’s Stones. Set in a scenic spot with impressive cliffs, the site has been called the “Stonehenge of Sweden.” Some claim that the site was constructed 5,500 years ago, and some tests concur, but other evidence leads most experts to agree that it is younger, either 1000 or 2500 years old. Fifty nine huge boulders, up to 1,800 Kilos each, form the outline of a ship 67 meters long. Local lore tells us that the place is the burial ground of the Legendary King Ale. According to the tales, King Ale (also known as Ole) of the House of Skjöldung ruled in Uppsala for 25 years until he was killed by Starkad the Old. Events related to this story, referred to in English as “Starkad’s Vow,” is told by Saxo Grammaticus in Gesta Danorum.
In recent years, evidence of a burial site was found near the center of the stone ship. It was thought to be the remains of a dolman, a Neolithic burial chamber consisting of several upright stones with a horizontal boulder on top. Thousands of dolmans can be found throughout Scandinavia. It is also interesting that this part of the site was estimated to be much older than the surrounding structures, roughly corresponding to the 5,500 year estimate of the original dig. Since dolman sites were often deconstructed in later ages to build churches and other structures, it is possible that stones from the older burial site were used to build part of the stone ship, providing a reasonable explanation for the conflicting results of the dating tests.
Some claim that Ales Stenar might have been inspired by Stonehenge, but I disagree. We have no way of knowing if the creators of Ales Stenar even knew about Stonehenge, or whether Stonehenge was still standing when material from the dolman was incorporated into the stone ship. They had other, more plausible templates to refer to if the need arose. Structures similar to stone circles or ships were not uncommon throughout Europe, and while many have been rediscovered, we have found only a fraction of them.
When I was visiting Stockholm I was lucky enough to see the famous 17th century ship at the Vasa Museum. Even with constant preservation efforts the wood continues to deteriorate. Compared to wood, stone is resilient; but time is a ruthless and relentless adversary, and left unchallenged can easily scatter the bones of the Earth. As with wood, many ancient stone structures are also lost to time, and will never be found. However, Ales Stenar is not alone, there are stone ships, stone circles and runestones surrounding the Baltic Sea and in other places in Europe. In this respect Odin’s people have left their mark as their kindred Europeans have. Other sites of interest are the Glavendrup, Anundshög and Jelling stone ships, and the Gettlinge and Hulterstad grave fields, to name just a few.
Evidence suggests that the stone ships are early burial sites, and this is supported bySnorri Sturluson in the introduction to the Heimskringa: “As to funeral rites, the earliest age is called the age of burning; because all the dead were consumed by fire and over their ashes were raised standing stones.” Traditionally stone circles were used as meeting places or places of judgement (Domarringar/Domkretsar – judge circles or Domarsäten – judge seats). Over time it is thought that the stone ships became meeting places as well.
For those of us who follow the Old Religion, it shouldn’t matter if Ales Stenar is 1000 or 5500 years old. We may not know everything about the stone ships or monoliths, or how their cultural significance evolved over the centuries, but the sites themselves tell us they were important. No one in those times moved tons of rock into predetermined designs because they were bored. The amount of effort and resources spent on these projects, in an age where survival was a constant and brutal struggle, make it obvious that they had a deep meaning to the people who built them. The remaining sites are more than just curiosities, they are connections to our ancestral past. They represent the flow from which we come and the efforts of our ancestors, not only to survive, but ensure the survival of their people. These places are sacred to us because they were sacred to them, and without the efforts of our ancestors we would not exist. In such places, if sought, one can feel the soul of the Folk.
Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/22/swedish-stonehenge-tomb-ales-stenar-chieftan_n_2000936.html
National Geographic News: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/01/070112-stonehenge.html
Stonehenge and Timber Circles, by ALEX GIBSON
Tempus. 2005 (Second edition). 189pp, ISBN 0 7524 3350 4
The Swords of the Vikings, Stories from the Works of Saxo Grammaticus by Julia Davis Adams copyright 1928 Dutton (1 edition)
The Heimskringla Vol. 1 Snorro Sturleson (alternate spelling), translated by Samuel Laing, ESQ. from The Heimskringla Vol. 1 page 212. Published 1844.
Quote from page 212