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Runic bunglers – not everyone knew runes

Between five and fifteen per cent of all the runic inscriptions found in medieval towns in Norway do not consist of proper runes, but merely of marks that look like runes. Apparently someone had seen runes and was trying to imitate them.

The display contains several examples of rune-like signs, mostly from the town of Tønsberg, carved on animal bones. While it took time to prepare a piece of wood for use as a proper rune-stick, just about anyone could take a knife and doodle on a discarded bone. Rune-sticks were mainly used by those who had something to say.

The lead tablet here is a Christian amulet covered exclusively with rune-like signs. The inscription was surely made by a cheat who reckoned that his customers could not read Latin.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, så, gressfamilien, beige.

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

1. Rune-like signs. Cow rib fragment from Oslo. 1175–1225.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, så, beige, gjenstand.

Bildet kan inneholde: gul, oransje, linje, svart, så.

2. Rune-like signs. Rib fragment from Tønsberg. 1250–1300.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, så, beige, fawn.

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

3. Rune-like signs. Rib fragment from Oslo. 1175–1225.

Bildet kan inneholde: tre, brun, khaki, så, beige.

Bildet kan inneholde: gul, linje, rav, oransje, verden.

4. Rune-like signs. Rib fragment from Tønsberg. 1200–1300.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, fotografi, rav, så, khaki.

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

5. Rune-like signs. Rib fragment from Tønsberg. 1100–1150.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, gul, atmosfære, khaki, fotografi.

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

6. ‘m||||’ (Maria?). Rib fragment from Tønsberg. 1200–1300.

Bildet kan inneholde: stein, gjenstand, svart og hvit, monokrom fotografering, grå.

Bildet kan inneholde: gul, kunst, kunstverk, illustrasjon, visuell kunst.

7. Rune-like signs. Lead tablet from Torkelsby. 1200s/1300s?

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, khaki, stein, bakke, geologi.

Bildet kan inneholde: brun, blad, khaki, så, skråningen.

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

8. Illegible rune-like signs. Four-sided wooden stick from Tønsberg. 1250–1300.

All photos: Eirik Irgens Johnsen © Museum of Cultural History

Published Dec. 18, 2020 8:28 AM - Last modified Mar. 8, 2021 9:13 AM