Sat, 04 Feb 2023

What Norwegian archaeologists believe to be the world's oldest rune stone, a block of sandstone inscribed with an early Scandinavian alphabet, has gone on display in Oslo. It may date from the time of Jesus Christ.

At almost 2,000 years old, the rune stone is several centuries older than previous discoveries.

The square brown sandstone rock, measuring about 30x30 centimetres, was found during the excavation of an ancient burial ground in late 2021 near Tyrifjorden, in the east of Norway, ahead of construction work on a railway line.

Carbon dating of bones and wood fragments found in a grave beside the rune suggest that it was inscribed sometime between year one and 250 AD, Oslo's Museum of Cultural History said.

Normally erected at gravesites, especially during the Viking era, runes are stones inscribed with letters from the oldest alphabet known in Scandinavia.

The discovery, named the Svingerud stone after the farm where it was found, is "a dream for runologists", the museum said.

Mystery carvings

"We thought that the first ones in Norway and Sweden appeared in the years 300 or 400, but it turns out that some rune stones could be even older than we previously believed," runologist Kristel Zilmer told Norwegian news agency NTB.

"It's a unique discovery," she said.

Archaeologists looking at the stone outside didn't at first realise that the stone was covered in faint markings, Zilmer wrote on Twitter this week.

When re-transcribed into the Latin alphabet, the inscription on the rune forms the unknown word "idiberug".

"The text may refer to a woman called Idibera and the inscription could mean 'For Idibera'," Zilmer suggested, though she stressed that scholars aren't sure what the markings mean.

Some of the inscriptions appear to be abstract lines and patterns rather than letters. "Maybe someone was learning how to carve runes," Zilmer said.

The Svingerud stone is on display at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo from 21 January to 26 February.

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Originally published on RFI

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