Runes Solve Mystery of 1,100-Year-Old Viking Amulet

Illustration for article titled Runes Solve Mystery of 1,100-Year-Old Viking Amulet

In the first millennium CE, Vikings wore little replicas of Thor's hammer Mjölnir, like this one discovered recently in Denmark. What's incredible about this find are the runes on the hammer.


Amulets like these have been discovered all over the Viking world, but until now, archaeologists couldn't say for sure that they were supposed to be representations of Thor's hammer or not. They seem like hammers, but they are so stylized that they could also have been something else. But this amulet, discovered on a Danish island, bears a few runes (see below in closeup) that translate to the phrase "This is a hammer."

Illustration for article titled Runes Solve Mystery of 1,100-Year-Old Viking Amulet

According Past Horizons, which reported on the find:

The small Thor's hammer from Købelev has interlacing ornament on one side of the hammer head and the short runic inscription on the other. The runes range in height from 3 to 7 mm, so it required precision to inscribe them onto the object. It took some time to comprehend the actual meaning of the inscription; partly because the runes are so small, partly due to surface corrosion on the 1100 years year old amulet and also because of the imperfect runic inscription itself.

The runes translate into modern English as 'Hammer is' where the x indicates the separator between the two words. This translates more properly into 'This is a hammer'. This could indicate that the inscriber was absolutely literate [and] managed to make an inscription fit into a tiny space.

The fact that the person who made the hammer was literate is a source of fascination for archaeologists. It could indicate that literacy was widespread among craftspeople. On the other hand, no one has discovered other hammers with runes on them. So this hammer may have been an exception to the rule, perhaps because so few artists were highborn enough to be trained to read and write.

The hammer was cast in bronze, and was likely plated with silver, tin and gold. Vikings would have worn these small amulets for protection, but the plating indicates they were valued for their beauty as well.


Read more at Past Horizons


Mew Mew!!

Why on earth would you write 'This is a hammer' on an amulet though? It doesn't make sense to me unless not even the vikings knew what they were wearing and had to remind themselves from time to time.