New runic artifacts discovered during excavation in Oslo’s old town

Runic objectPhoto: Tone Bergland / NIKU
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Archaeologists excavating the Medieval Park in Oslo’s old town have discovered eight new finds of runic objects from medieval Oslo. In addition, there is a find of a piece of bone with script-like markings.

The information has been confirmed to The Viking Herald by Kristel Zilmer, professor of runology and iconography at the University of Oslo.

Over the last several months, the dig at the Medieval Park in Oslo has resulted in a number of interesting finds, including multiple runic objects.

Rune finds

In the run-up to Christmas of 2021, two runic inscriptions were discovered during excavations in Oslo’s old town. The first inscription is carved on bone – it was also the first bone with runes found in Oslo in more than forty years. The second one is carved on wood, with a religious text in Norse and Latin.

Zilmer provided NIKU with initial interpretations of the runic inscriptions at the time. In an e-mail to The Viking Herald, she said that her interpretations haven’t changed since then.

“The work on all the finds is ongoing, but thus far, I have not seen anything that would change the interpretations that I proposed of the two earliest finds, presented by NIKU and Science Norway. With the runic stick that carries phrases in Latin and Old Norse, my further investigations have been able to confirm some of the initial readings of individual runes that support the overall interpretation of the inscription as combining religious statements in two languages,” Zilmer noted.

Runic inscriptions

She also reflected on problems and challenges related to the interpretation of runic inscriptions.

“In general, we runologists try to distinguish between the levels of reading the inscription (identifying the individual runic characters) and interpretation (establishing the meaning of the text as a whole). In reality, of course, there are fluid borders between these two phases, and as scholars, we will have our preconceptions and hypotheses when working with new finds.

“The key point is to try to stay critical throughout the process and see what can support a particular reading or interpretation as well as what might contradict it. Common difficulties have to do with damages, fragmentarily preserved objects and inscriptions, ambiguous character shapes, or sequences that do not seem to provide any direct lexical meaning (but these may, of course, still have meant something to those who produced the messages),” she told The Viking Herald.

The importance of runic finds

Talking about the importance and rarity of runic finds – such as the ones discovered in Oslo – Zilmer accentuated that they offer new windows of opportunity to develop our understanding of medieval people.

“Every new runic find, every new discovery adds new evidence that we can build upon when we want to learn about medieval people across different layers of the society. Urban finds of simple pieces of wood and bone, personal equipment, and practical tools show that many things could be turned into writing materials and used for different purposes. We can learn more about what people wrote, how they wrote – what materials they used to express themselves.

“We learn about their activities and also about what was important for them to record or share with others. We naturally see that their skills varied, and we do not really know how wide-reaching runic literacy may have been. But possibly many town-dwellers could at least have some degree of runic knowledge (some perhaps being able to recognize/recreate some simple shapes)”, Zilmer concluded.

Source : The Viking Herald / #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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