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.


  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:


  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.

  15. The NYT piece which was mentioned in the social-media of the Pohansko archaeologists (and here in the Avar thread) has finally emerged

    apparently the questionable conclusion that the bone was used “as intended” by the Slavs stirred huge nationalist backlash; it may have been safer to hypothesize that the bone’s owners didn’t use as an alphabet, or perhaps weren’t even Slavic…

    Zuzana Hofmanova, a member of the Brno team who analyzes ancient DNA, said she recently received an anonymous message denouncing her and fellow scholars working on the inscribed sixth-century bone as traitors who deserved to be killed.

  16. Trond Engen says

    Huh? Never underestimate the misconceptions of nationalists, but how would that be in conflict with any patriotic fantasy?

  17. David Marjanović says

    It’s way too Germanic for any patriotic fantasy.

  18. J.W. Brewer says

    Why isn’t the patriotic fantasy that obviously a Heroic Slav Warrior slew a Wicked Teutonic Interloper and kept the Magical Runebone Amulet of his vanquished foe as a souvenir/trophy? That doesn’t not fit the evidence and seems perfectly nationalism-compatible.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Clearly, today’s nationalists have way less imagination than those of yesteryear.

  20. Trond Engen says

    Well, in fairness, they threatened the archaeologist for not being sufficiently aware of the possibilities for nationalist mythbuilding. What I meant was that the tale of a Slavic ruler from the pre-Christian heroic age taking steps to establish literacy well before Cyril or Method came along has the makings of a fine nationalist myth all by itself.

  21. There’s no shortage of Old Norse–related threads, but I thought this was the best place to post news of this exhibition featuring the Svingerud stone at the Oslo Historical Museum.

    The piece is light on details, but tantalising:

    The inscriptions are up to 2,000 years old and date back to the earliest days of the enigmatic history of runic writing. The stone has been named after the place of discovery, and is now called the Svingerud stone. 

    Sometime between 1,800 and 2,000 years ago, someone stood near Tyrifjorden and carved runes into the 31×32 cm block of reddish-brown Ringerike sandstone. They spoke an early form of the ancient Nordic language that is the ancestor language of modern Nordic languages spoken in Scandinavia today.

    Is the name inscribed on the stone that of the person who is buried there? On the front face of the stone, eight runes stand out clearly among other inscriptions. Converted into Latin letters they spell: idiberug. Is the stone made “for Idibera”? Or was the intention to write the name ‘Idibergu’ or the kin name ‘Idiberung’?

  22. Trond Engen says

    Thanks. I was going to post about it. Now I’ll just add this link to the writeu in sciencenorway.no. The maybe most important fact about this stone is that it can be dated archaeologically because it was found in a grave with layers and objects that can be directly dated. The dates range from 25-250 CE with some dates coming more precisely in the earlier part of the range. With eight runes that don’t form any recognizable word or phrase, textual analysis is difficult.

  23. Trond Engen says

    I should also note that there are some journalistic confusion about the language. My linked English article says “Proto-Germanic”. Some Norwegian articles say “a language older than Proto-Norse”. I don’t know what it’s garbled from, especially since it’s not been possible to read language out of it — maybe something like “older than the language stage we usually call Proto-Norse”.

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