Runestone Facts: Where were runestones used: Scandinavia • Runestones first used: Around 2,000 years ago • Date of earliest known writing: 3400 B.C.
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Archeologists in Norway discovered the world’s oldest dated runestone.

Runestones are the oldest known form of writing in Scandinavia. They are stone blocks with markings of the runic alphabet, which was first used about 2,000 years ago, according to the University of Oslo. Archeologists determined the stone’s age by radiocarbon dating samples from the site where it was found.

The writing on the stone looks a little different than the alphabet we know today, appearing more like lines, Xs, and shapes.

Kristel Zilmer is a Professor of Written Culture and Iconography at the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History. She was responsible for investigating and INTERPRETING the inscriptions on the stone.

While several thousand runestones have been found, this is the only one found so far that dates to before 300 AD. According to the museum, the stone contains the first three letters of the runic alphabet—“f,” “u” and “th”—on one of its sides. Eight runes on the front spell “idiberug” when converted into Roman letters.

“The text may refer to a woman called Idibera and the inscription could mean ‘For Idibera,’ ”Zilmer said. It’s also possible “idiberug is the rendering of a name such as Idibergu, or perhaps the kin name Idiberung…not all inscriptions have a linguistic meaning.”

It’s hard to imagine today, but writing has not always looked the same as we know it. The earliest known writing dates back to around 3400 B.C. in an area called Sumer, near the Persian Gulf. Writing was a powerful tool and allowed people to begin exploring all that writing can offer, from every day usage to creating poetry and literature.

Around the same time, the Egyptians invented their own form of hieroglyphic writing. Not long after that, other forms were developed in China and then in Mexico and Guatemala.

So the next time you send a text or write a letter—be sure to think about what it took to develop the written language we use today!

February 2023