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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