A 2,000-year-old rune stone found in Norway could be the oldest ever, and give a glimpse into ancient writing systems
- Archeologists have found what they think is the oldest example of runes.
- The writing, which is about 2,000 years old, was found in Norway.
The world's oldest runestone may have been found in Norway, dating back more than 2,000 years.
It is covered in primitive runic writing, and archaeologists believe it dates back to between AD 1 and AD 250.
It is unique because it seems to be covered in scribblings, according to a press release from the University of Oslo announcing the findings.
The stone, uncovered near a large grave field in eastern Norway in late 2021, can teach us about the origins of this mysterious form of writing, per the release.
A commemorative stone or a rough draft
The stone sets itself apart with its mysterious etchings.
"Some lines form a grid pattern and there are small zigzag figures and other interesting features. Not all inscriptions have a linguistic meaning," said Kristel Zilmer, a runologist and professor of written culture and iconography, in the press release.
This could mean the stone was used as a sort of draft to try out the runes.
"It's possible that someone has imitated, explored or played with the writing. Maybe someone was learning how to carve runes," says Professor Zilmer.
However, one word, that can be made out clearly on the stone, could give the stone another meaning.
The runes spell out "IDIBERUG."
It's difficult to know exactly what this means because the runes are very primitive compared to those used by the Vikings.
But this could be an early spelling of "For Idibera," which could mean the runestone was also meant to commemorate a woman or a family that was buried at the site, according to the press release.
Runes are thought to have developed after a first contact with ancient Romans
It's not clear when the runic alphabet — called the futhark, because the first six runes are "f u th a r k" — first came to be, per the press release.
Runes are the oldest form of writing in Norway. Though they are most commonly associated with the Vikings, who ruled Scandinavia from about AD 800 to AD 1100, archaeologists know they were in use up until about 1350.
It's unclear when the writing started, though it is thought to have been inspired by early contact with the Roman empire.
Scandinavians came into contact with Romans later than many European civilizations, around AD 1-400. That's when, inspired by Latin writing, early Scandinavians might have started developing their own alphabet, archaeologists say in the press release.
Only 30 runestones have been found before around AD 500.
This newly-uncovered runestone, called Svingerudsteinen after the Svingerud site where it was found, is possibly the oldest.
This is according to carbon dating done on the charcoal and bone samples from the cremation pit where the stone was found, which place the stone before AD 300.
By analyzing the stone, Zilmer thinks archeologists can learn more about the early development of runic writing and how they have evolved over time.
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