Archaeologists have discovered the “world’s oldest runestone,” a squat block of sandstone with etchings scribbled across its flat surface.
The ancient stone discovered by researchers in Norway may contain the earliest example of “words recorded in writing in Scandinavia.”
During the fall of 2021, archaeologists digging a grave in eastern Norway discovered a block of red-tinged sandstone etched with spidery runes, an ancient system of writing used by Germanic peoples of northern Europe.
Radiocarbon dating of items found at the site, including charred bones and charcoal, determined that the runestone was likely carved between A.D. 1 and 250, making it “the earliest datable runestone in the world.”
The stone, which measures 12.2 inches by 12.6 inches (31 by 32 cm), has several inscriptions. The eight runes on the front might mean ‘For Idibera,’ who could be the person buried in the pit. According to The Associated Press, experts are currently deciphering many of the etchings, since some do not appear to “make linguistic sense.”
“This may be one of the first attempts to use runes in Norway and Scandinavia on stone,” Kristel Zilmer, a professor at the University of Oslo, of which the museum is part, told The publication. “This find will give us a lot of knowledge about the use of runes in the early Iron Age.”
“We needed time to analyse and date the runestone,” she said to explain why the discovery was first announced on Tuesday.
The rock, dubbed the Svingerud stone after the site where it was found, will be on display for a month, starting on January 21, at the Museum of Cultural History.