The “world’s oldest” runestone, thought to have been found in Norway and dating from between AD 1 and AD 250, was reportedly found, according to archaeologists, on Tuesday. The discovery is regarded as one of Scandinavia’s first discoveries of written words.
In the fall of 2021 during the excavation of a grave close to Tyrifjorden, west of Olso, the country’s capital, the discovery was made. In order to “examine and date the runestone,” according to the University of Oslo Professor Kristel Zilmer, researchers kept the discovery a secret for so long. The site was being investigated by archaeologists from the University of Oslo and the Oslo Museum of Cultural History.
Zilmer told NTB, “We thought that the first ones in Norway and Sweden appeared in the years 300 or 400, but it turns out that some runestones could be even older than we previously believed.”
According to the museum, runes are letters used by Germanic peoples and are the region’s oldest form of writing. From the first century AD to the 1400s, they were in use. Only 30 runestones discovered in Norway had been dated up to AD 550 prior to this discovery.
In the cremation pit burial where the runestone was discovered, archaeologists also discovered charcoal, charred human bones from the period between AD 25 and 250, and a spur from 0 to AD 500. The stone’s inscriptions were dated between AD 1 and AD 250 using radiocarbon dating of the burial, the bones, and the charcoal. A prevalent burial technique from the late Bronze Age through the Roman Iron Age, the museum said, was the usage of cremation grave pits.
A “reddish-brown” chunk of sandstone that was 31 by 32 centimeters in size was inscribed with runes. The Associated Press report said, Zilmer spent the last year studying the inscriptions on the stone, which not all made linguistic sense.
The name of the woman who might have been interred there, “Idibera,” is reportedly inscribed into the stone, the museum says. Zilmer acknowledges that the name could have had a few different spellings or could have been a family name.
The stone contains a variety of inscriptions, Zilmer said, “The stone has several kinds of inscriptions, some lines form a grid pattern and there are small zigzag figures and other interesting features. Not all inscriptions have a linguistic meaning.” She continued, even theorizing that it might have been someone learning how to carve the letters because “not all inscriptions have a linguistic meaning.
According to Zilmer, the inscriptions are difficult to interpret due to the constantly changing nature of language between the Viking age, the Middle Ages, and the time this runestone was created. The museum said that there are many examples of Viking-era runestones, but one this old is extremely rare.
Although this runestone is thought to be the oldest ever discovered on stone, the AP notes that there have been older runes not discovered on stone. The discovery will be on display at the Oslo Museum of Cultural History from January 21 to February 26.
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