Runic inscriptions: ancient Post-it notes

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Traveling through Norway was so much more wonderful than I ever imagined it would be, and it’s difficult to articulate exactly why.

It was certainly great to bond with my older daughter as we navigated big cities and Nordic countryside. The mountain scenery was spectacular, the fjord cruises extraordinary, the cuisine savory. (One day I had pickled herring and sardines for breakfast!)

But there was something else at play during the entirety of our trip, something profoundly ancient tugging at my soul. Perhaps it’s because this is where the lion’s share of my genealogical roots are; strains of DNA from both my maternal and paternal ancestors swirl through descendants, many of whom no doubt still call Norway home. I saw multitudes of blond, blue-eyed, fair-skinned Norwegians who looked like they could be long-lost relatives. Maybe some of them are.

We didn’t trek to my ancestors’ old homesteads as my parents did some 35 years ago, but we did explore centuries-old buildings in both Oslo and Norway and I came away simply fascinated by my heritage.

One of the most interesting places we visited was the Bryggens Museum in Bergen, built on the site of the medieval city of Bryggen. In the mid-1950s about 670 runic inscriptions on wood and bone, some dating to as recent as the 14th century, were excavated after fire swept through the historic waterfront district. This was a significant archeological discovery that revealed the inscriptions were much more personal and varied than historians had previously thought.

The runic alphabet was known from the first century A.D. among Germanic tribes around the North and Baltic seas. The oldest version of the runic alphabet had 24 runes.

The inscriptions are every-day messages carved on small wooden sticks or bones that could be easily transported. The museum assistant noted that this collection of messages, housed deep in the bowels of the museum, show human nature hasn’t changed much throughout time.

We marveled over these messages — ancient Post-it notes of sorts — that ranged from declarations of love such as “My love, kiss me” and “Ingeborg loved me when I was in Stavanger,” to more practical notes that declared ownership of yarn and property (“Eysteinn owns me”), or gave simple directives: “Gyda tells you to go home,” perhaps issued to a wayward husband?

One message simply states, “I hope I can visit the beer house more often.”

Another fascinating piece of history we took in was the Viking ship museum in Oslo, which contains the world’s best-preserved Viking ships and finds from Viking tombs near the Oslo Fjord. Again, I was enthralled as we pored over ancient tools, textiles, woodworking and household utensils found with the ships, the oldest of which was build in 820 A.D. The trek to this museum was worth almost missing our train to the airport. Because the largest marathon in Norway was staged in Oslo on the final day of our trip, the buses were shut down and we had to do some real finagling to get the museum and back to the hotel to retrieve our luggage. We had exactly three minutes to spare when we got to the train station.

I’ve always been interested in archeology, and had even contemplated a career as an archeologist before settling on journalism. The trip to Norway went above and beyond my appreciation of ancient stuff, though. This trip was personal on so many levels. It left a runic inscription on my heart that involves the word “hjemkomst,” the Norwegian word for homecoming.

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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