Playing Piece With Runic Inscription Found In Trondheim

Jan Bartek - - While repairing an old sewer pipe under the road in Erling Skakkes gate 9 in Trondheim, Norway, archaeologists carried out an urgent survey of Medieval layers that would be disturbed by the construction work.  This led to the surprising discovery of a game piece with a runic inscription.

The area in the medieval city of Trondheim that had been opened up had been dug through and crisscrossed by many different cable routes. Still, next to the burial for the sewer pipe in question, there remained an approximately four-meter long and one-meter wide bolk with cultural layers from the Middle Ages.

Playing Piece With Runic Inscription Found In Trondheim

The symbols are not just decorations. According to interpretation, the archaeologists and the runologist believe that the object is a playing piece with a runic inscription. Photo: Dag-Øyvind Engtrø Solem, NIKU

"In the uppermost layers, we found partially preserved planks, which may be part of a small road route. These layers curved sharply down towards the middle due to the fact that there was a deep pit below which has sunk together over the years, says archaeologist Dag-Øyvind Engtrø Solem in a press statement.

There were fists in the pit, which lay 3.8 meters below today's surface. Afterward, this has been dated to approx. AD 1000 - 1150, and coal from a layer of coal higher up in the pit has been dated to approx. 1030 – 1180 AD

It was between these layers that the archaeologists found, among other things, the soapstone playing piece.

"We actually saw the object at the same time and got very excited," says archaeologist Guro Skogvold. Not only did the supposed playing piece have incised decorations that could resemble floral motifs. Couldn't some of the lines also be reminiscent of runes?

Unusual Find

High-resolution images of the object were sent to runologist Karen Langsholt Holmqvist, who found the find so interesting that she came to Trondheim to see the playing piece with her own eyes.  After looking at the piece, she could confirm that it really was a runic inscription.

"When you first look at the playing piece, it may look as if it only has a slightly uneven geometric pattern, perhaps a snow crystal. But when I examined the piece more closely, I saw that the lines were not random patterns but a carefully planned runic inscription. As the inscription follows the curvature of the playing piece, the inscription is a bit odd and strange, but there is no doubt that these are runes.

Playing Piece With Runic Inscription Found In Trondheim

3.8 meters below the groundArchaeologist Dag-Øyvind Engtrø Solem at work in the pit where the playing piece was found, nearly four meters below what is today's surface. Photo: Audun B. Selfjord, NIKU

And under the microscope, I also discovered that there are guidelines drawn, so there is no doubt that the runic maker has planned well to make the inscription follow the round shape of the piece. There are fields on the playing piece that do not have runic inscriptions, and here the shaker has filled the void with a pattern", Holmqvist continues.

"Since I studied runology, I have always wanted to find a runic inscription, so this was a dream find!" says Dag-Øyvind Solem.

And what does it say on the chip?

"The runes are clear. It says siggifr. On small objects like this, it is quite common to shake names, and Sig- is a well-known prefix in names. We have it in both male and female names, such as Sigurd and Sigbjørn or Sigfrid and Sigrid. When the name ends in -r, we can assume that we have a male name, and the interesting thing here is that the word sifr is a heiti, i.e. a metaphorical and poetic word in Norse, meaning "brother." The prefix Sig- means "struggle", so perhaps we have a hitherto unknown name with the meaning "brother in battle." Possibly it is the name of the person who made it or the person who owns the chip", says Holmqvist.

"Or, Solem interjects, could it be that this has been, for example, a king piece in chess and that we are dealing with the player's "brother in the fight"? After all, weapons often have names, so why not a game piece?

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It is an unusual find in that only two objects with runic inscriptions with only names have been found in Trondheim previously.

Elsewhere in the country, I only know of one other playing piece with runes. It was found at Bryggen in Bergen, says Solem further. The interesting thing is that it is also uncertain whether the inscription ("Viking," which was a common name in the Middle Ages) refers to the person who owned the object, the person who made the inscription, or whether it was the nickname of the playing piece."

Written by Jan Bartek - Staff Writer