Travel writers often try to build an image in their readers’ minds by comparing two places. Thus Amsterdam – and even Birmingham – are sometimes referred to as “the Venice of the North”. Similarly, megalithic structures in many countries are often called the “…… Stonehenge”. In Sweden, this name usually refers to Ales Stenar (Ale’s Stones), a group of 59 enormous stones laid out in the shape of a ship. They stand on the coast to the east of Ystad in Skåne and were only discovered in 1989. As with Stonehenge, astronomical functions have been ascribed to them, for instance that the stones face sunrise or sunset in different seasons.
The discovery of Ales Stenar has overshadowed the older claim of the Stenehed row of menhirs to be known as the Swedish Stonehenge. Nevertheless, this whole area of West Sweden is rich in archaeological sites with tombs from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, the celebrated Hällristningar rock paintings at Tanum (a UNESCO site), tumuli and menhirs from the Iron Age, and Viking rune stones.
The site at Stenehed has 45 burial mounds, menhirs (bauta stones), standing stones in the form of a ship, the remains of stone circles, and of course the impressive row of upright standing stones to which the site originally owed its fame. Nine of these still stand, ranging from 1.4 to 3.3 metres high. Originally there were probably eleven or perhaps twelve. The tumuli and the row of menhirs are considered to date from the Late Swedish Iron Age, around 500-600 AD, although there is some discussion about this. In fact the site of the stones has never been excavated and Sweden has no other similar structures with which to make a comparison (although older examples are known). The remains of the stone circle predate the tumuli and are perhaps from the Bronze Age. What is certain is that this place has been of enormous importance and used for rituals for thousands of years.
Many people believe that the row of stones has an astronomical significance, another reason for naming it after Stonehenge. Looking precisely along the line on Midsummer Day you can see the sun set over Kleveberget, which lies 2 km away. So the Bronze Age circle might possibly have been used as a viewpoint from which to watch the shadow of the stones slowly creeping towards the centre of the circle.
The site has an information panel in Swedish and someone (perhaps an enthusiastic amateur archaeologst?) has hung up A4 texts, also in Swedish. These explain the links with other sites of astronomical importance such as Stonehenge, Carnac and Callanish. You can find almost the same text at: http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~catshaman/history/18srad2.htm. This is also in Swedish but by using Google Translate you can convert it into a kind of English, sufficient to understand it
As with many other archaeological remains, this site has a legend linked to it.
The fight between King Rane and Queen Hud
In Castle Raneborg, close to this spot, lived King Rane. A certain Queen Hud was in love with the brave king and wanted to marry him. At first he agreed but when the queen arrived at Raneborg with her retinue he had changed his mind. Instead of preparing a marriage feast he had gone hunting. Queen Hud was so angry that she ordered her army to storm the castle and set it on fire. Riding away from the blackened ruin, she is supposed to have said: ’Instead of Raneborg, this castle shall henceforth be known as Svarteborg, the black castle. (There is indeed a town called Svarteborg near here, 3 km south of Hällevadsholm).
King Rane, who had seen the smoke and flames from a distance, pursued the fleeing queen and caught up with her at a spring where she had stopped to drink. There he took his revenge, attacking the queen and cleaving her head in two with his sword. Her army fled but the king chased after them and killed them all. According to legend, that took place at Stenehed.
The legend also tells that the queen was buried on the Hud estate at Hod’s Heath near Rabbaldshede, north of Hällevadsholm. A menhir here called ‘Queen Hud’s stone’ marks her grave. The queen’s followers are supposed to be buried in the tumuli at Stenehed, marked by the 12 stones.
More information in English can be found in an article entitled ‘Stonehenge Has Got a Younger Sister’: https://www.scirp.org/pdf/IJAA20120100003_54189277.pdf
Text and photos Jan Venselaar
Translation Alun Harvey