Today, most runestones are painted with falu red, since the colour red makes it easy to discern the ornamentation, and it is appropriate since red paint was also used on runes during the Viking Age. In fact, one of the Old Norse words for "writing in runes" was fá and it originally meant "to paint" in Proto-Norse (faihian). Moreoever, in Hávamál, Odin says: "So do I write / and color the runes" and in Guðrúnarkviða II, Gudrun says "In the cup were runes of every kind / Written and reddened, I could not read them".
There are several runestones where it is declared that they were originally painted. A runestone in Södermanland says "Here shall these stones stand, reddened with runes", a second runestone in the same province says "Ásbjörn carved and Ulfr painted" and a third runestone in Södermanland says "Ásbjôrn cut the stone, painted as a marker, bound with runes". Sometimes, the original colors have been preserved unusually well, and especially if the runestones were used as construction material in churches not very long after they had been made. One runestone in the church of Köping on Öland was discovered to be painted all over, and the colour of the words was alternating between black and red.
The most common paints were red ochre, red lead, soot, calcium carbonate, and other earth colors, which were bound with fat and water. It also appears that the Vikings imported white lead, green malachite and blue azurite from Continental Europe. By using an electron microscope, chemists have been able to analyse traces of colors on runestones, and in one case, they discovered bright red vermilion, which was an imported luxury color. However, the dominating colors were white and red lead. There are even accounts where runes were reddened with blood as in Grettis saga, where the Völva Þuríðr cut runes on a tree root and colored them with her own blood to kill Grettir, and in Egils saga where Egill Skallagrímsson cut ale runes on a drinking horn and painted them with his own blood to see if the drink was poisoned.
Read more about this topic: Runestone
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