1900-Year-Old Runic Inscription Found on Danish Knife

In excavations carried out on the island of Funen in Denmark, archaeologists discovered a knife dating back approximately 1900 years. The runic letters found on the knife sparked great interest among researchers.1

The discovery was made by Jakob Bonde, a prehistoric archaeology expert working at the Odense Museum, at a cemetery near the city of Odense. Jakob Bonde explained that the inscription on the knife was not initially noticed, but became apparent after the knife was cleaned.

Lisbeth M. Imer, an epigraphy expert at the National Museum of Denmark, stated that the runic inscription on the knife corresponds to the ancient Scandinavian word “hirila”, meaning “small sword.”

Experts meticulously working on the knife, which is about 8 centimeters (3 inches) long, determined that it was made around the year 150 AD. This makes the runic inscription on the knife the oldest example discovered in Danish territory to date.

The found artifact holds great significance for researchers in the fields of archaeology, paleography, epigraphy, and history. The inscription on the knife has the potential to provide important clues about the socio-cultural context of that period and the evolution of runic writing.

However, archaeologists are faced with unanswered questions. Does the term “hirila” represent the name of the knife, or is it the name of the owner of the knife? If it is the name of the knife, then who could be the owner of this remarkable artifact? The complexity of these questions challenges researchers, and for now, they can only rely on speculations. However, there is a particular emphasis by researchers on the possibility that the knife may have belonged to a person of high status. Jakob Bonde highlights the noticeable influence of Rome among high-ranking individuals in Denmark during that era.

According to a post shared on the official Facebook page of the Odense Museum, the knife will be exhibited at the cultural history museum Møntergaarden in Odense starting from February 2.

Photo: Jakob Bonde (Museum Odense)

Denmark During the Iron Age (500 BC – 800 AD)2

During the Iron Age in Denmark, the society was predominantly engaged in agriculture and animal husbandry. Village settlements gained importance, land usage increased, and the overall structure of society changed. Metalworking and iron production significantly advanced during this period, contributing to economic prosperity alongside farming and livestock.

As Denmark was outside the sphere of influence of the Roman Empire, it did not directly experience Roman culture. However, the expansion and influence of Rome were felt across Europe during this period. The trade network established by Rome reached the northern regions of Denmark, leading to the entry of some Roman goods into the area.

Although Rome’s political and cultural influence did not leave a pronounced mark on Denmark’s local traditions during this time, it is believed that some cultural exchanges occurred through trade.

Towards the end of the Iron Age, the region transitioned to the Viking Age. From the 8th century onwards, the Vikings, with their maritime skills, began to exert influence across a vast geography. During this period, Denmark’s historical and cultural evolution gained momentum through the trade, warfare, and settlement activities of the Vikings.

  1. (2024, January 22). Museum Odense. Facebook. Retrieved January 24, 2024[]
  2. The Early Iron Age. The Late Iron Age. Natmus.dk. Retrieved January 24, 2024[]