Denmark’s oldest writing found on 2,000-year-old knife

The oldest writing traced in Denmark was discovered on a little knife engraved with runic letters that dates back about 2,000 years, according to a Tuesday announcement from the Museum Odense.

Scandinavian runes, or runic letters, are the oldest known alphabet.

They were in use in northern Europe from the first or second century AD until the Latin alphabet took their place in the tenth century during the Christianization process.

“The knife itself is not remarkable but on the blade there are five runes — which is extraordinary in itself — but the age of the runes is even more extraordinary because they actually are the oldest we have from Denmark,” archaeologist Jakob Bonde told AFP.

“We don’t have any writing before this,” he said.

Dating back to around 150 years AD, the iron knife was found in a grave in a small cemetery east of Odense, in central Denmark.

The five runic letters spell out the word “hirila”, which in the Proto-Norse language spoken at the time means “small sword”.

The inscription is a “note from the past”, Bonde said.

“It gives us the opportunity to look more into how the oldest known language in Scandinavia developed … (and) how people interacted with each other.”

Bonde said “the person who owned it wanted to show he was, or wanted to be, some kind of warrior.”

The first traces of human settlements in what is now Denmark date back to the Stone Age, around 4,000 BC, but there are no traces of any writing before the Roman Iron Age (0 to 400 AD).

A small comb made of bone discovered in 1865 and inscribed with runes dates back to around the same period as the knife, Bonde said.

When writing first appeared in Scandinavia, it was “only small inscriptions, mainly on objects.”

“We don’t have books for example, or bigger inscriptions.”

Longer inscriptions can be found on Denmark’s most well-known runestones, which were placed in the town of Jelling in the tenth century.

Raised by Harald Bluetooth in memory of his parents, King Gorm and Queen Thyra, they were deeply connected with the founding of Denmark as a nation state.

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