Older Futhark Bone.

Slavomir/bulbul posts (on Facebook) “Runes from Lány (Czech Republic) – The oldest inscription among Slavs. A new standard for multidisciplinary analysis of runic bones,” by Jiří Macháčeka et al., and comments:

Somewhat exciting news from local archeologists: a bone with an inscription in Older Futhark was found in the Czech Republic in a Slavic context, suggesting contact between Germanic and Slavic peoples. This find does not mean, as the university’s press release irresponsibly suggests (and the comparison to the Glagolitic in the title confirms), that this is the oldest instance of writing among Slavic peoples. As the paper – describing this as a “rare artefact” – says, “… the runes may have been incised by people of Germanic origin… Alternatively, the runes may have been engraved by a Slav;” any speculation about the actual use of the runes among Slavs is thus premature at best.
Still, pretty cool.

If Slavo says it’s cool, it’s cool.

Comments

  1. J.W. Brewer says:

    You need to get pretty far into the paper before they actually tell you what the runes “say” or spell out, which you might well have thought would be “something more Germanic-looking” or “something more Slavic-looking,” but alas it appears to be a fragment of an abecedary, roughly equivalent to a fragmentary inscription in our script reading simply “V W X Y Z.”

  2. Underwhelming, I agree.

  3. J.W. Brewer says:

    I’m not necessarily saying it’s underwhelming. It’s just sort of ironic that the particular inscription they found is uniquely unhelpful for resolving the most interesting question it raises (i.e. what language did the inscriber speak or “write”).

  4. It would be amusing (considering the obvious identity politics involved: I guess now is as good a time as any to mention that Jaroslav Durych’s novel “Boží duha” (God’s rainbow) is the very first Central European novel I ever read: as a teenager in Quebec, at a time when local ethnic/language tensions were rather pronounced, it made quite an impression on me) if later finds showed that the writer was neither a Slavic nor a Germanic speaker. There were no Hungarian speakers in the area at the time, of course, but I wonder: could the runes have been made by a… (drumroll please!)…Romance speaker? (Dramatic clash of cymbals). The Danube (i.e. the former border between the Roman Empire and the outer world) is not that far South, after all. I admit that, from the vantage point of Romance linguistics, having even a few inscriptions in Futhark written in the now-extinct Romance varieties of the regions immediately South of Moravia would be quite a find!

    Of course, Hunnic or Iranian would be even likelier candidates than Romance. Let’s hope more of these runic inscriptions are found.

  5. David Marjanović says:

    I think that’s what a shitpost by a historical linguist looks like. :-þ

  6. David: I deny that the above qualifies as shitposting (I won’t deny that it may be perceived as shitposting by some researchers who do a poor job of separating nationalistic opinions from historical truth). As an exploration of the various possible candidates for the L1 of whoever wrote those runes, I think the three possibilities I gave above are reasonable. Without being exhaustive: Three other possibilities I have thought of since are: 1-A “Para-Slavic” language, related to Proto-Slavic without being ancestral to it, or 2-A “Para-Germanic” language, related to Proto-Germanic without being ancestral to it, or 3-A “Temematic”-type Indo-European language.

    With any luck, perhaps we will find a large trove of runic inscriptions in the region, written in all six of these languages! Unlikely in the extreme, I know, but you know as well as I do that stranger things have happened…

  7. There are Runic inscriptions in Hagia Sophia, but they are in Norse.

    I suppose “in a Slavic context” could mean “he picked it up on a trip to Sweden and took it home”. There’s no real evidence of who carved it and where.

    There’s plenty of evidence of trade routes through central Europe going a long way back, particularly amber from the Baltic going into the Mediterranean area. It wouldn’t be surprising if the odd souvenir went along for the ride.

    There are runic inscriptions in Latin, but from a much later period.

  8. Dmitry Pruss says:

    This inscription misses letters and mangles strokes, so it may be a student project rather than valuable booty. But the confidence interval of the C14 dates overlapped the last decade of the Langobard presence, so one simply cannot confidently exclude the possibility that this bone was inscribed in Langobard times

  9. Trond Engen says:

    It’s odd that an inscription with the quality of a beginner’s training piece should be coloured with an Iron pigment and presumably kept for a long time. It’s also striking how many of the inscriptions in the Older Futhark that are just abecedaries. I wonder if they had some significance on their own, as a talisman or a symbol of some kind, and were copied and spread also among people who didn’t master the art of writing.

  10. I agree, especially keeping in mind that runes were believed to have magic properties, were used for divining, etc.

  11. Dmitry Pruss says:

    The paper mentions that some of the 17 known Older Futhark abecedaries are “incomplete or abbreviated”, and I wonder if the latter means that skipped over runes too. Some replaced a few of the runes with different shapes.

    Since most of the inscriptions were short, I also wonder if it means that the rune-users weren’t literate in the contemporary sense of having memorized the letters and the ways to sound out the words, but could decipher the inscriptions rune-by-rune using an abecedary as a key. (If all they memorized was a series of 24 words, perhaps in a magic verse about gods and forces of nature, rather than the letter shapes).

  12. John Emerson says:

    “Abracadabra” for magic spells is derived from the A B C D chant, I’ve been told. I’ve also seen “gramery” used for magic spells,
    and I’ve seen “latis” used for the secret language of birds. The general idea seems to be that Latin / grammar / Latin are secret languages with unknown secret powers.

  13. David Eddyshaw says:

    All languages have secret powers:

    https://piecomic.tumblr.com/post/117795443848

  14. Trond Engen says:

    Dmitry: Since most of the inscriptions were short, I also wonder if it means that the rune-users weren’t literate in the contemporary sense of having memorized the letters and the ways to sound out the words, but could decipher the inscriptions rune-by-rune using an abecedary as a key. (If all they memorized was a series of 24 words, perhaps in a magic verse about gods and forces of nature, rather than the letter shapes).

    I’m pretty sure this was the case for many early readers of runes. What I wonder is if the carved abecedary became a talisman or a symbol even for those who couldn’t use it themselves. This could be magic, maybe along with elements of a formulaic letter verse, but it could also be secular, say as a token of membership in the guild of runemasters, akin to a fake graduation ring.

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