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(Photo: Aslak Liestøl/Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)Why did Vikings sometimes use codes when they wrote in runes? Jonas Nordby thinks he has made progress toward an answer.
The code is in cipher runes, the most common code known from medieval Scandinavia. (Photo: Jonas Nordby)One of the reasons for his claim is that the jötunvillur code is written in a way that makes the interpretation ambiguous.“Jötunvillur can only be written, not read.“A typical bunch of male adolescents were fooling around and wrote tall tales about treasures and their own sexual prowess,” says Runologist Jonas Nordby. Lundberg/Riksantikvarieämbetet)Coded declarations such as “Kiss me” demonstrate that the use of code was not limited to issues of political significance.Many of the messages in runic codes included a challenge to the reader to crack the code.A rune stick from the Wharf in Bergen testifies to a mischievous use of runic writing.The lines in the beards of these men comprise a message, written in cipher runes.There were no rune schools then but knowledge of this alphabet could be transferred from generation to generation by linking it to games, poetry, drills and codes, Nordby says. Nordby is the first person to study all the findings of runic codes in Northern Europe, around 80 inscriptions.
His Ph D research has taken him to several countries to analyse runic inscriptions dating back as far as 800 AD.
This testifies to a playfulness with writing that we don’t see today,” says Nordby.
Nine of the 80 or so coded runic writings that Nordby has investigated are written in the jötunvillur code.
His discovery can help researchers understand the purpose behind the mystery codes.“It’s like solving a riddle,” says Nordby.“After a while I started to see a pattern in what appeared to be meaningless combinations of runes,” he says.
Ancient codes prompt associations with treasure hunts and conspiracies as depicted in The Da Vinci Code.
This makes it hard to figure out which runic letter the code refers to. Nordby thinks the use also indicates a whimsical use of runes in the Viking Era and the Middle Ages.“We have little reason to believe the runic codes were used to conceal sensitive information.