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The comb was discovered in Ribe, West Denmark.

Objects with Viking Rune Inscriptions Unearthed in Denmark’s Oldest Town

Ancient objects with rare Viking rune inscriptions have been discovered in Denmark. Experts suggest that the runic inscriptions could possibly shed new light on a very important period of the early Viking age.

Comb with Rare Runic Inscription Unearthed

One of the objects that archaeologists unearthed in Denmark is a comb with a rare runic inscription of the word “comb. The object dates back to around 800 AD and it was discovered during excavations of a Viking Age market place in Ribe – the country's oldest town. The comb’s considered extremely valuable as only a handful of runic texts from this period exist nowadays.

Close to the comb, archaeologists also found a runic inscription on a small plate of bone or antler. According to the archaeologist and excavation director to Søren Sindbæk from Aarhus University, both objects illustrate best the missing details from a key period of Viking history, “These are the runes we’ve been missing. We’ve waited generations to be able to dig into this,” he says via Nordic Science .

The 3.8 by 1.8 centimeters bone plate had been burnt and otherwise deteriorated after more than 1,000 years in the ground.

The 3.8 by 1.8 centimeters bone plate had been burnt and otherwise deteriorated after more than 1,000 years in the ground. (Image: Søren Sindbæk)

Find May Shed New Light on how Vikings Used Runes

By runes, historians describe the letters in a set of related alphabets known as runic alphabets, which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialized purposes thereafter. The Scandinavian variants are also known as futhark or fuþark. The earliest runic inscriptions date from around 150 AD. Archaeologists believe that runes changed drastically at the start of the Viking Age, but they are not sure – as there is not any clear evidence – exactly what standardized written (and even spoken) language looked like during that period, or even what the Vikings actually used runes for.

The two new finds, however, double the number of runes from Ribe and increases the chance of archaeologists to understand their use better, “The new finds will help us in understanding the ways in which the Vikings used runes, and why they reinvented the art of writing," Sindbæk stated in an interview with IBTimes UK .  And continued, "Was it developed as a tool for magic? For labeling property and other business in trading towns? Or for sending messages over long distances? This is hard to know if you only have a handful of inscriptions to go by, so even two more inscriptions makes a lot of difference."

Runes are engraved on both sides of the comb. One side has the verb ‘to comb’, the other has the noun, ‘comb’.

Runes are engraved on both sides of the comb. One side has the verb ‘to comb’, the other has the noun, ‘comb’. (Image: Søren Sindbæk)

Runes Belonged to a Bronze Caster

Next, Sindbæk pinpointed that the discovery of the bone plate took place while he was excavating a small house that was known to have been a bronze foundry. At first, he could not understand what it was but soon the mystery was solved, “The engraving is so fine that you can’t immediately see the text, but I thought to myself, ‘what if it is an inscription?’ But then I thought, ‘no, that’s too optimistic,’” he said as Nordic Science reports . “It’s expertly crafted and we don’t find so many of its kind, so I couldn’t shake the idea. In the end I convinced myself that it had to be runes,” Sindbæk added, who was proven to be right.

Text’s Hard to be Deciphered but Leaves Hope for the Future

Sindbæk explained that it was really hard for him and his colleagues to decipher the text as both ends were missing. Archaeologists don’t how big the original piece would have been, or in what context it was used. “A guess is that it was once part of a casket,” says Sindbæk via Nordic Science .

The text lacks certain features, which mark the beginning and end of each word. “Just like if we today wrote asentencewithoutanyspaces. It is decipherable, but difficult to read. But this does not mean that the work was sloppy. The runes were clearly etched by a steady hand with detail indicative of an experienced engraver,” Sindbæk told Nordic Science .

However, he’s being optimistic that the new finds will help him and his team to give answers to all these questions that have been unanswered for centuries, “These finds may help us in solving a famous enigma: why did people in a northern corner of Europe, often believed to be brutes and barbarians, invent and use their own alphabet?” he told IBTimes UK , demonstrating once again the incredible archaeological value of the new finds.

Top image: The comb was discovered in Ribe, West Denmark. (Source: sciencenordic Credit: Søren Sindbæk)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

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