Two runic inscriptions discovered in Oslo


Archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) have discovered two items in Oslo with Norse runic writing engraved on them. 

Two runic inscriptions discovered in Oslo
This stick is one of two rune finds from the Medieval Park. It has text in both Norse and Latin
[Credit: Tone Bergland, NIKU]

The excavations took place at Oslo’s Medieval Park, or ‘Middelalderparken,’ which was previously the southern section of the medieval city of Oslo. The park features the ruins of St. Clement’s Church, St. Mary’s Church, and the former royal estate of Oslo Kongsgrd.

Researchers uncovered a bone with an inscription in Norse, and a piece of wood with an inscription on three sides, but with text in both Norse and Latin..

Two runic inscriptions discovered in Oslo
The rune stick has text in both Norse and Latin. Here you see one side with the text ‘Domine/i’
[Credit: Jani Causevic, NIKU]

Professor Kristel Zilmer of the University of Oslo, an expert in runology and iconography, has researched the discoveries and provided preliminary interpretations of the texts. “These are two interesting discoveries that expand our knowledge of rune writing and language in medieval cities,” she says.

The flat wooden rune stick has writing on three of the sides, and since it is damaged at both ends, some text has probably also been lost. Small wears and abrasions in the wood bring several uncertainties into the interpretation.

Two runic inscriptions discovered in Oslo
On this side the rune stick says “Bryngjerd, er det/som det…”, which probably refers
to Bryngjerd surrendering to God [Credit: Jani Causevic, NIKU]

Nevertheless, much of the text is legible and Zilmer says that it says manus Domine/i in Latin on one wide side of the rune stick, and the female name Bryngjerd, er det/som det… in Norse on the other wide side. On the short side, there are eight small signs that can make sense as both a statement in Latin or a continuation in Norse, which is possibly the phrase “It is true”.

“On one broad side, we notice two words in Latin: manus and Domine or Domini. Manus means “hand” and Dominus “lord, God”, and this is part of a well-known Latin prayer formula In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum (“In your hands, O Lord, I give up my spirit”) – known as Jesus’ last words on the cross,” says Zilmer.

“The short side of the rune stick can be interpreted as a continuation of this prayer, but it depends on what the first rune is. It can be a þ and refer to Þat er satt , Det er sant, an expression known from Norse saga and some runic inscriptions.”

“The same or similar phrase is used in some church inscriptions from Norway and Gotland. The most interesting example is from Urnes stave church where the runic inscription in Norse says: Hold the holy Lord’s hand over Brynjolv’s spirit. It’s true. This message is very reminiscent of the words on the rune stick.”

“On the other broad side it says by all accounts Bryngærðr, followed by a partially damaged expression with verbs. One possibility is that it reads er þat folgit (ie., with the verb fela), which means ‘to hide or conceal’, but also ‘to surrender or submit’. The latter may agree well with the prayer on the other side. It is Bryngjerd who has surrendered into God’s hands,” says the rune researcher. “This combination of Latin and Old Norse shows that in the Middle Ages Latin was not just used in solemn communication between the men of the Church.”

The second of the two new rune finds is a bone piece with thirteen clear runes on one side, and one weakly etched rune on the other. The bone appears to be from a larger domestic animal such as a horse or cow.

Two runic inscriptions discovered in Oslo
On this rune bone it says «basmarþærbæin», says Zilmer. The inscription
has two probable interpretations [Credit: Jani Causevic, NIKU]

“The inscription reads basmarþærbæin and either alludes to a personal name or nickname (basmarþær can contain the genitive form of the name Mår/Mård, with the preposition ‘bass’), or may simply describe the item since with four concluding runes bæin mean ‘bone’ in Norse. But the whole depends on how we interpret the first part of the inscription,” Zilmer says.

“The point of writing on the bone was not necessarily to show ownership of it, but maybe Mård sat there with free time after licking the bone clean, and used the opportunity to turn the leftover dinner into a writing board?”

“Another possible interpretation is the somewhat funny word composition bás-marðarbein = ‘bås (barn) goat’s bone’, but we will have to for an osteological examination to determine whether the bone comes from a horse, cow or sheep, which means we can only speculate if it was meant as humour!”

This is the first rune bone found in Oslo in over three decades. In total, only 27 runic letters were found in the capital. 

“Every new discovery of runes is important, and teaches us more about what people in the Middle Ages were interested in and wanted to share with those around them. These two rune finds are a reminder of the diversity of knowledge and interests of the people of that time,” Zilmer added.

Source: NIKU [trsl. TANN; December 31, 2021]

Support The Archaeology News Network with a small donation!