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Carving runes – practice makes perfect

Runes had to be learned – both their shape and how they were pronounced. It took practice to master the runic alphabet, which was called the futhork in the Middle Ages.

Many runic inscriptions consist only of the runic alphabet. Some of these are perfectly written (see picture). Others have been corrected and show that the pupil had made a mistake, either in order or form. Correct order was particularly important for messages written in coded runes.

Many inscriptions contain only part of the futhork.Several consist of just fuþfuþ, corresponding to ‘abc’. But this might also be a play on words. In Old Norse fuð could mean the female sexual organ, the vagina.

Often texts simply tell us who carved the inscription, such as ‘Karl carved these runes’. Using this formula people also carved their names as graffiti in public places.

Bildet kan inneholde: tre, brun, hardved, khaki, så.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, gul, linje, rav, svart.

1. ‘fuþ’ (beginning of the futhork). Wooden knife from Oslo. 1175–1225.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, så, beige, bronse.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: gul, linje, kunstverk, håndskrift.

2. ‘3: f u þ o o’ (futhork, in coded runes). Cow rib from Tønsberg. 1200–1300.

Bildet kan inneholde: tre, brun, khaki, så, beige.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History
Bildet kan inneholde: tre, brun, beige, så.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, gul, linje, khaki, oransje.

2. ‘3: f u þ o o’ (futhork, in coded runes). Cow rib from Tønsberg. 1200–1300.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, rav, så, khaki, beige.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: linje, kunstverk, illustrasjon.

4. ‘fuþorkhniastbmly.’ Rib fragment from Oslo. C. 1075.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, så, beige, naturlig materiale.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: gul, linje, khaki, beige, så.

5. ‘fuþorkhniastbmly [with corrections] / fuþoi.’ / [‘bio ta.’] Rib from Oslo. 1250–1300.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, landskap, khaki, så, geologi.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: gul, linje, skrift, oransje, håndskrift.

6. ‘Þórðr carved in the runes.’ Rib fragment from Oslo. 1150–1200.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, stein, så, geologi.
Photo: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Bildet kan inneholde: linje, parallell, kleshenger.

7. ‘Karl carved.’ Rib from Oslo. 1100–1225

Published Dec. 17, 2020 10:55 AM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2021 9:13 AM