Runic writing is one of the great mysteries of archaeology. Only a few scattered examples of it exist today, leading to much speculation and disagreement over how widespread the writing system was. There are several Runic alphabets known to archaeology, but it is most commonly associated with Middle Ages Norway and Northern Europe. A new runestone has only added to the curiosity and mystery surrounding this ancient writing system. The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) has announced the discovery of a Viking runestone with a curious runic message etched into it. The runestone is a small, hand-sized piece of polished slate believed to have been carved between the years 1050-1500 and was found during excavations for a new Oslo railway project. The small whetstone appears to display Viking runes believed to be around 1,000 years old, but the handwriting is poor, leading to doubts about what it might say.
Karen Holmqvist, a NIKU rune specialist, says that the stone is likely an example of an illiterate or semi-literate person attempting to write:
This is probably an unsuccessful attempt to write a name or another rather trivial inscription, but we can see that this is hardly a trained rune carver. It is perhaps not that strange that we find some strange spellings and some mirrored runes. Just think how you yourself wrote when you were learning to write.
The runes have not yet been definitively identified, but NIKU rune experts believe the show the runes æ, r, k, n, and a. Deducing what they might mean has also proven difficult, but researchers have four options: the words “scared,” “ugly,” or “pain;” or a person’s name. On their blog, the rune research team has asked for the public’s help in attempting to decipher the word on the runestone.
Imagine sitting down in the wilderness to take the time to carve a message into a stone by hand, fighting off shivers as the icy Nordic cold begins to set in around you. Given the time and effort it would take, why would you take the time to etch the words “scared,” “ugly” or “pain”? To me, I think current theories are looking past just how creepy it is that someone possibly chose any one of these words to write. Who knows what he or she could have meant when they carved the word “pain” or “ugly” into a rock. That’s pretty hardcore. Even for a Viking.