Denmarks Birth Certificate

My own country, Denmark, is quite small. In spite of this, we do have quite a few cool places to visit. Not so many epic nature scenes, as we’re quite flat and urban, but we do host quite a few historical landmarks from our 1000+ year old history from viking times through to today. I’ve just visited one of these. It is called the “Jelling stones”, and it is quite basically just two big granite stones engraved with runes and viking symbols. Big deal you might think, but the story behind them is quite fascinating, and they also relate to modern technology in a way you might not have expected, so hang on!

Getting there

The Jelling Stones are located in the small danish village of Jelling, which is located a bit outside the bigger city of Vejle, in the eastern part of the Jutland peninsula. To get there you can either drive yourself (best option) or take the train or a bus from, say, Vejle or Kolding. The stones are located close to the train station.

I drove there on my own, since the public transport options aren’t really the greatest, taking an exorbitant amount of time, and since I had a car available, it really was a no brainer.

Jelling is only famous for hosting these stones, and beyond them (and the whole complex surrounding them) there really isn’t much else to do out there.

You can spend a good hour just walking around the entire site as it is quite massive, hosting not just the stones but also the church with 900+ year old frescos, and two grave mounds you can climb to get a greater view of the place. Finally there is also a museum that can occupy you for even longer! (But it was closed during my visit due to holidays!)

During my trip, there was also a funeral ongoing inside the church. The church itself is of course closed for the public during such a service, as it would be rather inappropriate for tourists to wander in on such an event. The church does open again right after any funeral however. The funeral service lasted an hour, so if you’re unlucky enough to stumble into one, you will have good time to enjoy the site. Take a walk around like I did! The stones are also available at all times, unaffected by any funeral or other church services. They are even illuminated at night time.

The remainder of the blog is less a trip report and more history, but I do hope you’ll continue to read! Go to the bottom of the post for pictures!

The backstory/history

The Jelling Stones were put up by two of our earliest kings, from back in the viking-era. The first stone was put up by Gorm the Old in 950, while the second stone was put up by his son Harald Bluetooth somewhere between 960 and 985. At the time of Gorm the Old, the Danish kingdom had been greatly reduced in size and mainly consisted of the Jutland peninsula. He put up the smaller of the stones as a memorial to his wife Thyra, but at the same time it also contains the earliest written record of the word “Danmark” to name our country found within our own borders. On the larger stone put up by Harald Bluetooth, he honors his parents, and celebrates his conquest of the entirety of the Danish lands as well as Norway. He also declares those lands to be christian, officially converting us to christianity. For both of these reasons (first written record of the name “Danmark” and our conversion to christianity) these two stones are also commonly referred to as the birth certificate of Denmark.

The stones are engraved in the ancient rune script using the old norse language, which is not directly intelligible to modern danish, but is closer related to icelandic. The rune script is entirely foreign to modern danish.

The stones are located right outside the local church. The original church was built by Harald Bluetooth, but it was made from wood and burned down. The church was rebuilt from wood and burned down a few more times until finally in the 11th century it was constructed from stone for the first time. Parts of the original stone church are still standing today while other parts has been renovated and rebuilt. There are frescos on the inside dating back to around 1125.

In the 20th century excavations discovered a tomb underneath the church with some remains believed to be those of king Gorm the Old. They have since been reburied, with a silver-line on the floor marking the spot.

The complex beyond the church also counts two burial mounds and the “Jelling ship” which is numerous huge stone slabs put down in the formation of a big ship encapsulating the entire area including the church, stones and mounds. Finally markers of an old wall has been put up around the area, marking the entire complex.

The site was inducted into the UNESCO world heritage list in 1994 – the first site in all of Denmark to have been granted this distinction. A museum was built in relation to that explaining more in detail the life of the kings and the story of the area. Unfortunately this museum was closed during my visit (christmas holidays).

The stones have been encased in glass cases since 2012 for two main reasons. Firstly, ever since the industrial era, the rain has become more acidic, which means that in the past 100 years the stones has suffered more damage from the elements than in the previous almost 1000 years prior to that. Secondly, because in 2011 the stones were sprayed with graffiti, and the effort to clean off the paint without damaging the layers of the stones were very delicate and risky (but successful). So now they’re protected from both the elements and idiots.

Relation to modern technology

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the stones also kind of relates to modern day technology. Actually it is rather king Harald Bluetooth that does. As also mentioned, he conquered Norway and set up a system of quickly sending messages back and forth across the sea. This became infamous in Scandinavia. So when people were inventing what later became Bluetooth communication technology – connecting different devices, they needed a good name. One of the developers were swedish and knew of the story of Harald Bluetooth, and he proposed it as the temporary codename during development. When the final product was ready, they struggled to come up with a lay-man friendly name (rather than a highly technical one) that could also get licensed, and eventually ended up sticking with Bluetooth as all other proposals were dismissed.

In fact, the symbol for Bluetooth which you have undoubtedly all seen on your devices, is the combination of the rune-symbols for H and B, the initials of Harald Bluetooth. So you’re all using technology with a bit of viking history in it! How cool is that!

So that is a little piece of Danish history! I hope to explore more exciting parts of Denmark to share with you all in the future!

Fun fact:

Harald Bluetooth was obviously not actually named “Bluetooth” it is just a name he got because he allegedly ate so many blueberries that his teeth got stained blue. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not!

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