Runes derived from the Elder Futhark alphabet were carved upon a variety of materials during the Viking Age; for instance, antler, bone and wood. Many of these objects bore inscriptions that gave the name of its owner or manufacturer , whereas runestones often had room to bear much longer messages. 1,196, the highest concentration of runic inscriptions in the world, exists in Uppland, Sweden, where many were raised during the 11th Century. Although many runestones were engraved with ‘memorial inscriptions on them, sometimes with accounts of the lives and deeds of the deceased person ’, they also offer insight into the influences of paganism and Christianity in Viking Age Scandinavia from the runestones’ decorations, motifs and messages, some of which are prayers. In most Scandinavian districts that possess runestones, around 50% of the stone inscriptions pay homage to Christianity, whereas in Uppland around 70% of them show explicit references to Christianity . Therefore, many of the Uppland runestones can throw light on religious matters.
In Sweden, the Altuna runestone is a clear example of the setbacks facing the process of Christianisation – namely, the region’s people stubbornly continuing to celebrate and make art out of their old, pagan beliefs. It was raised in the early 11th century and is unique among the Uppland runestones for its representation of exclusively pagan motifs, despite Christianisation being widely regarded as established officially throughout Sweden in the 11th century. The stone displays an engraved depiction of the god Thor fishing for Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent . The absence of any other artwork except this carving, combined with the runic script frequently engraved on stones that indicates to whom the stone was dedicated (in this case, Holmfastr and his son Arnfastr) implies that ‘there is no indication that this stone was a Christian monument ’, according to Davidson. The Altuna’s runestone’s removal from any Christian influence that is apparent in all other runestones of its time suggests that heathen traditions withstood the conversion period.