The World Heritage Centre was informed about concerns over the surface deterioration of two runic stones, part of the overall property which includes a ship burial, two burial mounds, a manor, palisade, burial chamber and, as a later addition, a church with its churchyard. The setting is an open landscape.
Due to the conditions of the two carved Jelling runic stones, which stand in front of the church, the National Museum of Denmark was requested by the Diocese of Haderslev in March 2003, to propose a programme of non-destructive scientific studies. Funds became available in January 2006, and the National Museum obtained permission from the Heritage Agency of Denmark, the Diocese, and from Jelling Church Council to carry out the programme. The Danish National Committee of ICOMOS was informed.
The objectives of the programme were a) to provide an assessment of the state of conservation of both runic stones and b) to identify the imminent and long-term measures required in order to preserve the stones for posterity. The programme was initiated in October 2006, and a report of March 2008 described the findings. It concluded that there was a need for urgent intervention and some degree of protection.
The Director of the Danish Ministry of Culture asked the World Heritage Centre for advice, and requested an expert mission to discuss relevant conservation findings. This advisory mission, consisting of two ICOMOS experts, visited the property on 15 November 2008. The advisory mission report is available at the following web address: http://whc.unesco.org/fr/sessions/33COM/
Although the mission findings focus on the condition of the runic stones, the stones cannot be considered separately as they are an integral part of the whole property and any remedial activities must be judged accordingly. The mission found both stones to be in a precarious condition, requiring urgent action. Cracks have appeared in the stones, the carvings are seriously eroding, and the surface is foliating. There is evidence to suggest that regular mechanical cleaning has also harmed the surface. Positioned and unprotected in the open air, the stones are exposed to the effects of serious weathering, with active surface and sub-surface biological activity enhanced by nearby trees, and with the real potential of surface water in the cracks and fissures causing significant surface loss of stone and carvings during winter through ice expansion. Combined with direct human contact, tree root penetration on the "original" archaeology, and the possibility of vandalism and mechanical damage caused by machines, they are under significant risks that need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The mission considered that the stones should remain in their current position and not be moved. Furthermore, the mission recommended that the stones should be protected by an environmentally appropriate building attached to the church’s porch. Details of the proposed building should be provided to the World Heritage Centre for review by ICOMOS at the earliest opportunity, and before any firm commitments have been made. The proposed building should be conceived as an addition to the church, be visually differentiated from the main church structure, have climatic control and should have managed visitor access.
As the church and the church yard including the runic stones are protected under the Churches and Church Yards Consolidated Act of 1992, any alteration to the church or church yard requires approval by the diocesan authorities after consulting the National Museum.
The mission further recommended that traffic between the church and the museum should be restricted and follow a different route, according the proposed plan for the area; Consideration should be given to extending the buffer zone to include the palisade and the adjacent lime trees to the stones, which should continue to be pruned, but not felled.