Archaeologists in Norway have discovered the world’s oldest dated runestone, featuring runic inscriptions from up to 2,000 years ago. Researchers at the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History found the stone while investigating a burial ground in the municipality of Hole in eastern Norway in fall 2021, according to the museum.
The Svingerud Stone
The stone has been named “Svingerudsteinen,” or “the Svingerud Stone,” after the site where it was found. Burnt bones and charcoal from the cremation pit where it was discovered revealed that the writing was carved into the reddish-brown sandstone boulder, measuring about a foot in height and width, between 1 and 250 AD. “Me and my colleagues at the Museum of Cultural History are very excited about this sensational find that makes us rewrite some chapters in the history of runic writing,” said runologist Kristel Zilmer, Professor of Written Culture and Iconography at the museum.
Zilmer investigated and interpreted the inscriptions on the stone while the archeologists determined its age by radiocarbon dating samples from the grave where it was found.“It provides first clear evidence of the occurrence of rune-stones in Scandinavia in the first centuries AD…” she added.
Runes are the oldest known form of writing in Scandinavia, and the alphabet was widely used from the beginning of the Common Era (CE) and throughout the Viking Age until the late Middle Ages, according to the university. Scandinavia has several thousand runestones from the Viking Age — between 793 and 1066 AD — but there is less evidence of runes from earlier times.
Svingerudsteinen is the only stone found by archeologists that dates to before 300 AD. It contains the first three letters of the runic alphabet — “f,” “u” and “th” — on one of its sides, according to the museum. “Runestones with runes from the older futhark (the runic alphabet) are very rarely found in dateable, archaeological contexts and we understood that this had the potential to give us new knowledge about runes,” said Steinar Solheim, archaeologist and excavation manager at the Museum of Cultural History.
Who is Idiberug?
The stone has a “very special appearance,” according to Zilmer, featuring an “unexpected” mixture of thinly incised, shallow runes, rune-like characters and other visual motifs. Some inscriptions are zigzag-shaped, while others form a grid pattern. Eight runes on the front face of the stone spell “idiberug” when converted into Roman letters.
Since the way of writing inscriptions varied a lot, and the language changed considerably over time, interpreting the messages is a challenging task and there is still a lot of research to be done, the museum said.
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