Archeologists believe they have discovered the “world’s oldest” runestone in Norway, dating back to between AD 1 and AD 250, archeologists announced Tuesday. The find is considered one of the earliest examples of written words in Scandinavia.
The discovery was made during the excavation of a grave near Tyrifjorden, west of Norway’s capital Olso, in the fall of 2021. Researchers kept the find a secret for all this time to “analyze and date the runestone,” according to University of Oslo Professor Kristel Zilmer. Archeologists from the Oslo Museum of Cultural History and the University of Oslo were involved in investigating the site.
“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,” Zilmer told NTB.
Runes are letters that were used by Germanic peoples and are the oldest form of writing in the region, according to the museum. They were used from the first century AD until the 1400s. Just 30 runestones found in Norway prior to this discovery were dated up to AD 550.
Archeologists also found charcoal and cremated human bones dating to AD 25-250 and a spur from between 0 to AD 500 in the cremation pit grave where the runestone was found. The radiocarbon dating of the grave, as well as the bones and charcoal, helped date the stone’s inscriptions between AD 1 and AD 250. The museum says that cremation grave pits were a “common funerary practice from the late Bronze Age to the Roman Iron Age.”
The runes were carved into a “reddish-brown” sandstone block measuring 31 centimeters by 32 centimeters. Zilmer spent the past year researching the inscriptions on the stone, which did not all make sense linguistically, according to the Associated Press.
The museum says “Idibera” is carved into the stone, which could be the name of the woman who might have been buried there. Zilmer admits there are a few possible variations to the name, or that it could have been a family name. “The stone has several kinds of inscriptions,” Zilmer said. “Some lines form a grid pattern and there are small zigzag figures and other interesting features. Not all inscriptions have a linguistic meaning,” she added, even speculating that it could have been someone learning how to carve the letters.
Zilmer says it’s difficult to interpret the inscriptions because of the constantly changing nature of language between the Viking age, the Middle Ages, and when this runestone was created. There are many examples of runestones from the Viking age, but one this old is very rare, according to the museum.
While this runestone is believed to be the oldest ever found on stone, there have been older runes not found on stone, the AP reports. The discovery will be exhibited from January 21 to February 26 at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.