Runes: Clues to Uncovering the Past
The runic alphabet is an ancient Germanic alphabet that was used throughout Northern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, and Iceland from the first century C.E. well into the Middle Ages. This alphabet, used by the Anglo-Saxons and shared with other Germanic peoples, was brought to England at the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions . While runes enjoyed widespread usage among the peoples of the area, there is no concrete agreement as to the origin of this writing system. Runes fell into disuse as the Roman alphabets became the preferred script of most of Europe, but their forms and meanings were preserved in inscriptions and manuscripts. The alphabet is referred to as the (Old English) futhorc or (Germanic) futhark, after the first six letters . Runic letters consisted mostly of intersecting straight lines and were designed to be engraved on stone, wood, metal or bone. Their essential purpose was to serve as a simple means of communication or a practical method of correspondence.
Many of the letters in the runic alphabet appear to have been borrowed from other alphabets, such as the Greek, the Etruscan, and the early Roman alphabets. However,
where and when runes were invented is not known. They hold obvious similarities with the Roman alphabet which led early scholars to believe that the script first appeared among Germanic people close to the Roman Empire, with the implication that they were an adaptation of the more prestigious alphabet for barbarian purposes. Since runes were used as a practical method of correspondence, the alphabet was developed out of necessity. Although runes were designed to serve as a simple means of communication or correspondence, most runic inscriptions simply identified the ownership or burial site of someone or something, and were as distinct as the person who created them .
Most scholars studying runes believe the Germanic peoples used runes as they would any other script, for everyday usage. Other scholars, whose views are now rather outdated, believed that the Germanic people's social structure was so primitive and their commercial life so limited, that they had no need for a script of this type. These scholars presumed human memory was adequate enough to serve daily purposes and led them to conclude runes were used for rituals or magical purposes. The etymology of the word rune, descending from the Old English run, which means `secret/mystery,' strengthened the connection of the script to magic and the occult . This reinforced the attitude that runes were essentially, in origin at any rate, a magical or religious set of characters. This connection has attracted all sorts of people from New Age mystics to Nazi supporters, who are ignoring the script's original intent, creating a simple record for communication purposes.
This method of communication, or record, was simple, cheap and convenient. During this time in history, most men carried a...