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Norway reveals stone tablet providing clues to origins of Western writing

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The ancient rune stone found by Norwegian researchers is believed to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old. It was found buried beneath a later grave. Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural History
The ancient rune stone found by Norwegian researchers is believed to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old. It was found buried beneath a later grave. Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural History

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Norway is set to unveil an ancient rune stone found in the east of the country dating back as much as 2,000 years that is providing the missing pieces to the puzzle of the origins of writing in northern Europe.

Researchers from the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History found the block of sandstone on an Iron Age grave site dig near Tyrifjorden, northwest of Oslo, in late 2021. They now believe it is the world's oldest rune stone and that the characters on the stone are one of the earliest examples of writing in Scandinavia because radiocarbon dating shows the grave dates back to 1-250 CE.

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The stone, which is creating a stir internationally among runologists and archaeologists, is going on display to the public as the centerpiece of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

"Having such a runic find fall into our lap is a unique experience and the dream of all runologists. For me, this is a highlight, because it is a unique find that differs from other preserved rune stones," runologist Kristel Zilmer, professor of written culture and iconography at the Museum of Cultural History, said in a press release.

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Zilmer spent more than a year delving into the inscriptions on the stone and trying to figure out their meaning.

She believes some may be spelling out the name of a woman. "The text possibly refers to a woman called Idibera and the inscription could mean 'For Idibera', " she said.

Christened the Svingerud Stone after the farm where it was found, the 12-by-12-inch reddish-brown block could have been lost to history forever because the site is beneath the path of a major road and rail project being the developed by the state-owned Nye Veier AS.

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Stones with runic inscriptions from the Viking Age are scattered around Scandinavia in the thousands, but there are few that date back to the late Roman period. In Norway, there are only about 30 from the Roman Iron Age and Migration Period, which runs up until around 550 CE.

The rune stone goes on display at the Museum of Cultural History, which houses Norway's largest collection of historical artifacts Saturday through Feb. 26.

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