Archaeologists in Norway said on Tuesday they have found a rune stone that they believe is the oldest ever discovered in the world.
The flat, square block of sandstone has chiseled inscriptions that may be the earliest known example of words recorded in writing in Scandinavia, the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo said.
The stone is “one of the oldest runic inscriptions ever found” and “the oldest datable rune stone in the world”.
Not the oldest known runes, but the oldest on stone
Older runes have been found on other items, but not stone. The earliest known rune find is on a bone crest found in Denmark.
“This find will give us much knowledge about the use of runes in the early Iron Age. This may be one of the first attempts to use runes on stone in Norway and Scandinavia,” says Kristel Zilmer, a professor at the University of Oslo, of which the museum is a part, told the Associated Press (AP).
Kristel Zilmer is Professor of Writing and Iconography at the Museum of Cultural History in OsloImage: Javad Parsa/AP Photo/Picture Alliance
The rune stone was discovered in the second half of 2021 during the excavation of a grave near Tyrifjord, west of Oslo. The area is known for a number of archaeological finds.
“We needed time to analyze and date the runestone,” Zilmer said.
According to the researchers, items in the cremation pit – such as burned bones and charcoal – suggest the runes were probably inscribed between AD 1 and 250.
Speaking to Norwegian media, Zilmer said that until now there was a broad consensus that the first runes could have been carved in stone between 300 and 400 AD.
Northern Lights Photography
Northern European alphabet before the spread of Latin
The stone measures approximately 31 by 32 centimeters (or about 1 square foot) and has several types of inscriptions, some of which have no clear meaning to the academics.
Eight runes on the stone read “idiberug”, which archaeologists believe is probably the name of a man, woman or family.
Zilmer told AP the discovery was “the most sensational thing I’ve had as an academic,” and said a lot more work can be done to try to understand more about the object.
These runes, which appear decipherable to archaeologists, are taken as names; the stone was found in a tomb Credit: Javad Parsa/AP Photo/Picture Alliance
“No doubt we will gain valuable insights into the early history of runic writing,” she said.
The stone will be on display at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo for a month from January 21. The building houses Norway’s largest collection of historical artefacts from the Stone Age to modern times.
Runes were the characters in several Germanic alphabets before the advent of the Latin alphabet. The most common of these is also called Futhark, after the first letters of the alphabet. For the same reason, the word alphabet comes from alpha and beta—for a and b.
msh/wmr (AFP, AP, dpa)