Big Dig in Norway Turns Up 'Dream of All Runologists'

Archaeologists announce discovery of world's oldest runestone—perhaps as old as Jesus
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 17, 2023 11:15 AM CST
Runes Etched in Stone Could Be as Old as Jesus
Kristel Zilmer of the Museum of Cultural History displays a runestone found at Lake Tyri in Norway on Thursday.   (Javad Parsa/NTB Scanpix via AP)

Archaeologists say they've discovered the oldest known runestone—a stone inscribed with runic letters, which represent the oldest known alphabet in Scandinavia—perhaps as old as Jesus Christ. The University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History says it's "the oldest datable runestone" and that its inscription, carved up to 2,000 years ago, is "among the oldest runic inscriptions ever found." "This may be one of the first attempts to use runes in Norway and Scandinavia on stone," Kristel Zilmer, a professor at the university, tells the AP. The outlet reports older runes have been found on items apart from rocks, including a bone comb.

However, the Vimose Comb uncovered in Denmark is dated to around AD160. Experts say this brown sandstone block, found at an ancient burial ground near Lake Tyri in late 2021, may have been carved with a knifepoint or needle as early as AD1. "We thought that the first [runestones] in Norway and Sweden appeared in the years 300 or 400," Zilmer says, per AFP. But bones and wood in a cremation pit next to the rock have been dated to between AD1 and AD250, during the Roman Iron Age. This is roughly the same time period in which the runic alphabet is believed to have been created, per Science Norway.

Dubbed the Svingerud Stone after the site of its discovery, the rock measuring roughly 12 inches square carries "several types of inscriptions," one of which reads "idiberug," per the AP. This could be the name of a person or family. It also carries the first three runes of the alphabet, per Science Norway, leading Zilmer to wonder whether the writer was just learning to inscribe onto stone. "Having such a runic find fall into our lap is a unique experience and the dream of all runologists," she tells the outlet. "Without doubt, we will obtain valuable knowledge about the early history of runic writing," she adds, per the AP. (More discoveries stories.)

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