THE RUNES OF GREENLAND
Greenland was populated by settlers from Iceland and Norway from 985 or 986 A.D. The leader of the first group of settlers was Eirik Raude, the father of Leif Eiriksson. (Leif Eiriksson later discovered Vinland, hence North America). The group set out from Iceland with 25 ships, but only 14 ships arrived at Greenland. The rest of the ships were either wrecked in storms when they crossed the sea or turned back to Iceland. The settlers brought with them the Norse manner of living, as well as the runes. These people lived on Greenland for 500 years, until they mysteriously disappeared from history. Today, the only trace of them are the ruins they left behind.
Approximately 60 runic inscriptions have been found on Greenland. Approx. 35 of these inscriptions have been discovered in Austerbygden, one inscription (see picture) has been found on the isle of Kingigtorssuaq (far north of the populated area) and approx. 20 inscriptions have been discovered in Vesterbygden. (Helge Ingstad, 1959,1995)
The oldest runic inscriptions found on Greenland are written on a piece of wood found at Narssaq, north-east of Julianehåb. There is reason to believe that these runes, inscribed on three sides of the wood, were written in the beginning of the 11th century.
On one side a complete 16 rune Futhark of the older type of short twig runes is written. However, two of the runes on this piece of wood have a typical design created in Greenland; the B- and R- rune. (These older, shorttwig-runes went out of use in Norway about 1000 A.D. Thereafter, the newer type of shorttwig-runes were used in Norway.)
On the second side of this piece of wood there is runic text which states: "Bibrau is the name of the girl who sits in the blue".
On the third side there is written a secret, magical formula which is untranslatable. (Erik Moltke,1959).
The second oldest inscription which has been found is probably from the 13th century. It is etched on a headstone in a churchyard cemetery. The inscription says: "Ingibjorg's grave".
All other runic inscriptions which have been found probably date to approximately the 14th century.
A characteristic of the language used in Greenland was that it was very conservative. The older forms of speaking, which had come from Iceland and Norway, were kept intact. (It must be acknowledged that they were also independent and created new dialects). In keeping with this conservatism, the Greenlanders likewise maintained the older runic characteristics, most of which had fallen out of use in other countries. Notwithstanding this, they created new designs for the ð-, b-, p- and r-runes. (Magnus Olsen).
By 1300 A.D. the common language used in Greenland and Iceland had diverged, as it did in the Faeroe Islands, Shetland Islands, Orkeny Islands, and the Hebrides. As a result of this development in regional language, including Norway, many disparate West-Norwegian and Norwegian dialects emerged. (Magnus Olsen).
Runic inscriptions were often written on articles of everyday use, such as graveyard stones, wooden crucifixes, etc. One runic inscription found upon a piece of wood within a coffin at the graveyard of Hrjolfsnes says: "This woman, whose name is Gudveig, was buried at sea in the Greenland Sea". In this way, she was finally paid the respect of being commemorated at a holy site.
ABOUT RUNES IN THE LITERATURE
Bjørn Jónssons has written about Lik-Lodin (= Corpse-Lodin), who lived around the middle of the 11th century. In the summertime Lik-Lodin used to sail north of the populated areas and bring home shipwrecked seamen or hunters who had died out on the drifting ice. He often found their bodies in caves and clefts, and sometimes he found runic inscriptions telling what had become of the dead men.
In the Sturlungasaga you can read about the priest Ingmund, whose ship was wrecked upon east Greenland. His remains were found in a cave. Beside him were the runes which told of the fate which had befallen him. The runes were written on a "vaxspjald".
"Vaxspjald" is a type of hand held writing board which consisted of a piece of wood with one surface covered in wax (see picture). The runes were scratched in the wax. It was possible to erase the message by smoothing out the wax surface before writing a new message on the "vaxspjald". A "vaxspjald" has been found at the Hopperstad stave church in Norway.
Pictures of runic inscriptions from Greenland
Direct links to the other pages:
|.Anglo-Saxon.runes.| |.Elder.Futhark.| |.Odin's.Galder.Songs.| |.Sigdrifumal.| |.Secret.runes.|
|.History.of.the.runes.| |.Norwegian.runic.inscriptions.| |.Symbols.| |.Daily.life.| |.The.Thing.| |.Raids.|
Created by Arild Hauge © Denmark, Aarhus 2002
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Sist oppdatert kl. 22:48:11 den 13.07.2004.