Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Oldest Rune Stones in the World

The Svingerud Stone is the oldest rune stone, created almost two thousand years ago

There are many things that come into mind when thinking of Vikings – horned helmets, which are historically inaccurate, longships that brought terror to Europe, Norse gods that have been turned into Hollywood super heroes and, the subject of this article, their unique way of writing.

The runic alphabet developed among the early Germanic people of Northern Europe almost 2,000 years ago. How it was created it still not fully understood, though it is widely believed that contact with Mediterranean civilisations – Greeks, Etruscans and Romans – influenced the creation of this writing system.

Some of the best preserved examples of this script can be found on rune stones, including the lions-hare located in Sweden. They had many varied purposes ranging from marking territory to memorialising fallen kinsmen. Rune stones used to be highly colourful, though hundreds of years of being out in the open means very little is left for modern observers.

Here were look at some of the oldest rune stones found by archeologists.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Lasers Are Mapping Scotland’s Mysterious Iron Age Passages

A laser scan of Cracknie souterrain, capturing every detail in 3D

In February 2022, Graeme Cavers and his team of archaeologists set off in search of a mysterious underground passage called a souterrain. There are around 500 of these Iron Age structures scattered throughout the Scottish Highlands, but nobody knows what they were built for, and no one has ever discovered one intact.

“Perhaps they were for storage, such as grain in sealed pots or dairy products like cheese,” says Matt Ritchie, resident archaeologist at Forestry and Land Scotland. “Perhaps they were for security, keeping valuables safe, or slaves or hostages secure. Or perhaps they were for ceremonial purposes, for household rituals, like a medieval shrine or private chapel.”

Site surveys can help shed light on the condition and structure of souterrains, but they can take at least a week using traditional methods, says Cavers, whose company AOC Archaeology was enlisted by Ritchie to help map the Cracknie Souterrain in Scotland’s Borgie Forest.

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Enigmatic Ale’s Stones – Sweden’s Megalithic Ship-Like Formation


Ales stones, Hesten and others (Valleberga 20:1). Image credit: Jorchr - CC BY-SA 4.0

Myths, legends, and mystery surround this fascinating megalithic formation consisting of 58 (59) upright boulders and one vertical (weighing up to 1.8 tons each) - placed in a gigantic ship formation, 67 meters in length and 19 meters wide.

The largest stones are almost 3.5-meter and are called "bow" and "stern." They are directed towards the sunrise at the time of the summer solstice, and the sunset at the time of the winter solstice.

The Ales Stenar - Sweden's largest stone complex dates back to the Bronze or Iron Age. From a bird's eye view, it resembles the shape of a boat. It is not known who and for what purpose built it. Not even experts know why this complex was built.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Found the world's oldest rune stone

Photo: Alexis Pantos/KHM, UiO.

During the first few centuries of the Common Era, during the period that archaeologists call the Roman Iron Age, Scandinavians came into contact with Roman society by trading goods and through their encounters with the Roman army. Archaeological material testifies to the fact that this is how they acquired knowledge about new customs and forms of organisation, and not least a written culture. 

Inspired by the classical alphabets, such as the Roman alphabet, the Germanic peoples created their own characters – runes. But exactly how old is the runic alphabet, and when were the first rune stones made? These are questions that researchers have been seeking to answer for many years. 

A new archaeological find is attracting international attention among runic scholars and archaeologists: the world's oldest dated rune stone was discovered during the autumn of 2021 when archaeologists at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, investigated a grave field in Hole near Tyrifjorden, Eastern Norway. Radiocarbon dates show that the age of the grave and thus the inscriptions on the stone probably date back to 1-250 CE. This rune stone is thus one of the very earliest examples of words recorded in writing in Scandinavia, and the inscriptions provide new insights into the development and use of runic writing during the early Iron Age. 

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Norway reveals stone tablet providing clues to origins of Western writing

The ancient rune stone found by Norwegian researchers is believed to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old. It was found buried beneath a later grave.
Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural History

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Norway is set to unveil an ancient rune stone found in the east of the country dating back as much as 2,000 years that is providing the missing pieces to the puzzle of the origins of writing in northern Europe.

Researchers from the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History found the block of sandstone on an Iron Age grave site dig near Tyrifjorden, northwest of Oslo, in late 2021. They now believe it is the world's oldest rune stone and that the characters on the stone are one of the earliest examples of writing in Scandinavia because radiocarbon dating shows the grave dates back to 1-250 CE.

The stone, which is creating a stir internationally among runologists and archaeologists, is going on display to the public as the centerpiece of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Wishing well used for Bronze Age 'cult rituals' discovered in Bavaria

The wooden wishing well discovered by archaeologists in Bavaria, Germany.
(Image credit: The Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection)

Archaeologists in Bavaria, Germany, have unearthed a 3,000-year-old wooden wishing well overflowing with more than 100 artifacts dating to the Bronze Age.

Unlike modern-day wishing wells, where people toss in coins and make a wish, the items in this well were placed there for "ritual purposes" in what is now the Bavarian town of Germering. The artifacts included more than 70 well-preserved clay vessels, including numerous decorative bowls, cups and pots that were used for special occasions and not "simple everyday crockery," according to a translated statement(opens in new tab). 

Archaeologists also found more than two dozen bronze robe pins, a bracelet, four amber beads, two metal spirals, a mounted animal tooth and a wooden scoop. 

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Brutality of prehistoric life revealed by Europe’s bog bodies

At Alken Enge in Denmark, the remains of at least 380 individuals were deposited in a wetland almost 2,000 years ago.

In 1984, a peat cutter discovered human remains in a bog in Cheshire, England. They belonged to a man who died a brutal death some 2,100 years ago before being placed in the bog — examination of his well-preserved mummy revealed blows to the head, a possible stab wound and a broken neck. Twisted sinew found still wrapped around his neck may have also been a garotte.

Now in the British Museum in London, the remains of the Lindow Man are perhaps the best known of Europe’s 2,000 or so “bog bodies.” These are mummies and skeletons that have been found mired in the peat and wetlands of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.

The bodies — often exquisitely preserved by the bogs’ cool, acidic conditions and organic compounds— provide an exciting snap shot of the past. Archaeologists study their skin, bones, clothes, belongings and sometimes even their last meal. Now, researchers have undertaken the first comprehensive survey of bog bodies — a burial tradition they believe spanned 7,000 years — to build up a fuller picture of the phenomenon.

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First of its kind study identifies how humans lost their body hair

Humans appear to have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but evolution has disabled them,  scientists at University of Utah Health and University of Pittsburgh report.
(CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Orangutans, mice, and horses are covered with it, but humans aren’t. Why we have significantly less body hair than most other mammals has long remained a mystery. But a first-of-its-kind comparison of genetic codes from 62 animals is beginning to tell the story of how people—and other mammals—lost their locks.

Humans appear to have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but evolution has disabled them,  scientists at University of Utah Health and University of Pittsburgh report in the journal eLife. The findings point to a set of genes and regulatory regions of the genome that appear to be essential for making hair.

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Svante Pääbo: ‘It’s maybe time to rethink our idea of Neanderthals’

Svante Pääbo says becoming a Nobel laureate has been ‘a burden … but a pleasant burden’. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

A greyish neanderthal skeleton stands at the door of Svante Pääbo’s office, acting like a doorman to check up on his visitors, who have grown considerably in number since it was announced he was to receive a Nobel prize. It clutches a white party balloon in its left hand and is missing its right lower arm.

“Unfortunately my son broke it off once,” says Pääbo with a chuckle, patting the skeleton’s head.

On the day the Guardian visits, the Swedish geneticist is still reeling from the shock of having been chosen as Nobel laureate for Medicine or physiology (the prize straddles both fields) in October. A bottle of champagne stands on his desk along with messages of congratulations from friends and colleagues. Over coffee and shortbread in a rare interview, he admits: “It’s a bit of a burden, to be honest, all the attention I’ve been getting. But it’s a pleasant burden, and one for which I know I can’t expect much sympathy.”

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