Norway archaeologists find ‘world’s oldest runestone’

Norwegian archaeologists announced Tuesday that they have found a runestone they say is the world’s oldest, saying the inscriptions are up to 2,000 years old and date back to the earliest days of the enigmatic history of runic writing.

A flat, square block of brownish sandstone is carved with patterns that may be the earliest example of written words in Scandinavia, the Cultural History Museum in Oslo said. It claimed to be “one of the oldest runic inscriptions ever found” and “the oldest data runestone in the world”.

“This find will give us a lot of knowledge about the use of runes in the early Iron Age. This may be one of the first attempts to use runes in Norway and Scandinavia on stone,” Kristel Zilmer, a professor at the University of Oslo, which owns the museum, told The Associated Press.

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Older runes have been found on other objects, but not on stone. The earliest find of runes is on a bone comb found in Denmark. Zilmer said perhaps a knife tip or needle was used to carve the runes.

The world's oldest rune stone with a mysterious inscription has been found in Norway.
The world’s oldest rune stone with a mysterious inscription has been found in Norway.(Museum of Cultural History)

The rune stone was discovered in 2021. during the autumn excavation of a grave near Tirifjord, west of Oslo, in a region known for several monumental archaeological finds. The objects found in the cremation pit – charred bones and charcoal – indicate that the runes were probably written between 1 and 250 AD.

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“It took us time to analyze and date the runestone,” she said, explaining why the find was first announced on Tuesday.

The 31 cm x 32 cm (12.2 x 12.6 in) stone has several types of inscriptions, not all of which have a linguistic meaning. On the front of the eight rune stone is written “idiberug”, which could be the name of a woman, a man or a family.

Zillmer called the discovery “the most sensational thing I’ve had as an academic.”

There is still a lot of research to be done on the rock, named the Svingerud Stone after the place where it was found.

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“We will no doubt gain valuable knowledge about the early history of runic writing,” Zilmer said.

The runestone will be on display for a month, starting January 21, at the Museum of Cultural History, home to Norway’s largest collection of historical artefacts from the Stone Age to the present day.

Runes are symbols of several Germanic alphabets that were used in Northern Europe from ancient times until the adoption of the Latin alphabet. They were found on stones and various household items.


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