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Sci/Tech

Ancient Norse rune code cracked

Norwegian scientist helps shine more light on the secrets of the Vikings


Not quite as portable as an iPhone, but it may well have had a similar function (Photo: Colourbox)

February 28, 2014
14:15

by Alina Shron


A Viking rune code that had baffled scholars for centuries has finally been cracked, but instead of revealing dark secrets, the inscriptions are mostly lighthearted banter. “Kiss me”, one of them reads.

PhD candidate Jonas Nordby of Oslo University, who solved the 12th/13th century Jötunvillur code, told the Guardian newspaper that the inscriptions were the “SMSes of the Middle Ages”.

It would appear therefore that rather than encrypting politically sensitive information, codes were a common way of playing, learning rules and even showing off – indeed, the inscription ‘interpret these runes’ often accompanied the codes.

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The ability to write and crack codes conferred a certain degree of status. A coded message found on the Orkney Islands reads as follows: “These runes were carved by the most rune-literature man west of the sea”.

Henrik Williams, a professor at Uppsala University’s Department of Scandinavian Languages, applauds Norby’s discovery, but confesses that he was never a fan of Jötunvillur.

“Personally I think Jötunvillur is an idiotic code because whoever made it chose a system that is so hard to interpret," he told the Guardian. "It’s irritating not being able to read it.”

In Jötunvillur, the original runic character is replaced with the last sound of the rune name.

Jötunvillur makes up but a few of the 80 inscriptions found in Scandinavia and the British Isles, which means the riddle-solving will continue for runologists hopeful of finding something slightly more revealing than banter.



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