Recent archeological discoveries in Norway are shedding light—and raising questions—on Scandinavian history.
By Walter S. Brackett III
A popular item in Viking-themed roleplaying games runestones give players the ability to cast a spell or use a special power. Now, a recent discovery has shed new light on the real-life history of these items.
The Svingerud Stone
In 2021, archaeologists working at a dig site in Eastern Norway discovered a sandstone block inscribed with runes that dated to 2,000 years ago, making it the “oldest datable runestone in the world,” according to University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History. It has been named the Svingerudsteinen or Svingerud Stone, after the site where it was discovered.
The stone was found as researchers excavated an ancient cremation pit (above). It may be “one of the first attempts in Norway and Scandinavia to carve runes on stone," according to iconography scholar Krystal Zilmer. (Note: There are older examples of such runes carved into other artifacts, but not on stone.)
There are at least three different varieties of runic script, based on different time periods and languages, which makes translation difficult. However, according to Zilmer, the eight runes on the front of the stone spell “Idiberug,” which may be a woman’s name.
The age of the stone carvings, hundreds of years before the runestone tradition began, has left scholars wondering what else we may not know about early runic writing.
Viking Grave Goods
Elsewhere in Norway, a Viking-era grave was discovered during a home construction in Oslo.
This ceremonial burial contained the remains of a shield as well as a soapstone vessel, buckle, cloak brooch, pair of knives, sickle, and horse tack. The presence of knives, brooch, and shield remnants indicate that the grave likely belonged to a high-status male, perhaps a prosperous farmer or land owner. Carbon dating suggests that these items were buried during the “high tide” of Viking exploration, conquest, and colonization: approx. 1100 AD.
Finding a Viking-era grave is rare these days, as many were dug up by antiquarians and private actors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is hoped that this ancient find in suburban Oslo will help us better understand the lives of the people who lived in the area one thousand years ago.