Although much runological fieldwork has been undertaken over the years, little has been written about it. The procedures adopted by the field runologist, the problems encountered and their solutions, are matters that can often only be dimly glimpsed in the text of the edition or article that emerges as the end product of the fieldwork. At the First International Symposium of Runes and Runic Inscriptions in Ann Arbor Erik Moltke and Sven B.F. Jansson shared a few of the insights they had gained during a lifetime of examining inscriptions, while in a brief article in Fornvännen (1988) Bengt Lundberg gave a summary account of his experiences photographing rune-stones. But all in all, few have thought it worth recording in any detail the various activities that led to the accounts they eventually published.
Yet much in a runic corpus edition (or presentation of an individual inscription) depends on the documentation that underlies it. Inscriptions are preserved in variety of circumstances – in modern museums, primitive (and sometimes private) museums, churches, churchyards, ruinous buildings, rock faces, cairns, and yet more. Some of the sites may be difficult of access, and involve the runologist in discomfort or even peril. All of these factors can affect the reading ultimately arrived at. Some inscriptions are not preserved at all: they may have been lost a while ago or in recent times; they can turn up and then disappear again. The methods involved in documenting such examples must of necessity differ from those adopted in the case of objects readily available for inspection.
This paper will consider how the field runologist proceeds from conception to implementation. There will be discussion of the purposes of runological fieldwork, of what might be termed “best practice”, and of the trials and tribulations that may be met with on the way. The presentation will be enlivened by accounts of the hurdles Ray Page and I sometimes had to overcome in our quest for accurate documentation of the Scandinavian inscriptions of the British Isles.