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History of Early Writing Systems in the British Isles

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 2432 words Published: 19th Aug 2021

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The more the sun rises, the faster Scott Beyer runs, hearing his watch tick five minutes before eight a.m. He runs faster than he has ever ran before to reach his classroom door to meet with his teacher, Sara, in the peaceful town of Alcester, England. As he reaches for the doorknob to his classroom, Scott finds himself being disciplined for being late to class. After being disciplined, Scott joins his classmates and prepares for the new lesson of the day, learning how to write their names in the early Celtic alphabet. Although writing to Scott is fairly new, it dates to pre-Roman times in this part of England. Writing systems have long existed in the British Isles. The earliest British system was the runic alphabet or “futhark.” How many versions of the futhark existed? How much did the rune stones, runic alphabet and futhark change over the centuries? How come the Roman alphabet was later able to dominate over the runic systems? With a more accurate understanding of the history of the British Isles at stake, the questions above merit further exploration.

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Through out history there have been different writing systems. Some have died over the ages, others have survived over time and some have influenced the way we write today. One of the earliest writing systems of the British Isles was rune stones. Runes were first used in 200 A.D., and they represented the old Scandinavian alphabet. They were derived from the Latin alphabet so people could carve these letters into wood, which is why the letters were all perpendicular and diagonal. Runes were used to write Germanic languages in Scandinavia and the British Isles, which were very common in Uppland, Sweden. Runes were also found from coins to coffins but were typically used for graves for deceased men. Over all runes have been important writing systems in the British Isles during the early times.

Many of the inscriptions that were carved on boulders and on bedrock served for a purpose during the Viking Age. The inscriptions that were carved were used to mark someone’s territory, explain inheritance, to show constructions, respect deceased men, and to tell important events. Mainly all the rune stones during the Viking Age that were carved were made for a purpose. Some runes showed who raised the rune stone first, who raised it after, and it also showed a description of both of the people who raised it and how they were related. A rune stone for deceased men had the inscription of the name of the person who passed away, place of death, and a prayer. Other inscriptions described the deaths and travels of deceased men around the world. The inscriptions on the boulders and on the bedrock showed how language, poetry, settlement, place names and communications developed during the Viking Age.

Rune stones were not evenly distributed throughout Sweden; also in Scandinavia they were unevenly distributed. Uppland, city in Sweden, has almost half of Swedish rune stones. Other rune stones are found in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Eastern Europe did not have any rune stones at all due to the lack of stones and another fact that people in Eastern Europe did not show respect to stones. Even though rune stones are being discovered, they are nearly always found in places that they were originally distributed. Many of them were placed on roads, bridge constructions, graves, farms, water routes, and assembly locations. In some medieval churches there were rune stones that have been put in as construction material. The appearances of rune stones are single monuments or are rarely seen as pairs. There are about forty percent of rune stones that were found in their original locations. Many experts say that the stones were not moved far away from their original location. About ninety-five percent of all rune stones are found.

Many rune stones today are painted with the color, falu red. This color was used in order to distinguish the writings on the stones. The common colors for rune stones were red ochre, red lead, soot, calcium carbonate and other colors. These colors were made with fat and water. The Vikings also imported white lead, green malachite, and blue azurite from Continental Europe to use on rune stones. Chemists have found out that the Vikings used their own blood to create the color red and to put on the stones. The inscription of the stone is written inside a shape of a serpent, a dragon, or a quadruped beast.

Another important early writing system in the British Isles was the runic alphabet, also known as Futhark. There were many several different types of the runic alphabet which were used during a different type of period and a location. The runic alphabet was used by German people in northern Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, and Iceland. It was used from the third century to the seventeenth century A.D. The runic alphabet was derived from the alphabets of the Mediterranean area. This alphabet was evolved by the Goths from the Etruscan alphabet, which was influenced by the Latin alphabet. The runic alphabet had letters in forms of angles. Experts believe that the runic alphabet pertains to a more ancient system due to its form of letters. The alphabet used letters that were known as runes. The Elder Futhark, Old English Futhorc, and the Younger Futhark are the best known runic alphabets. The Younger Futhark evolved into the medieval runes. The Elder Futhark is closely related to the Latin alphabet. The origins for the runic alphabet are still uncertain. By 400 A.D., the alphabet had 24 runes that spread across Europe.

The runic alphabet evolved centuries after the Old Italic alphabets. The origin of the runic alphabet had only five Elder Futhark runes. The runic alphabet was unique from others and did not have horizontal strokes like other alphabets. Runic writing was first used in southern Europe and was carried north to the German tribes. People started to use the runic alphabet from 150 to 550 A.D. Many of the inscriptions were made in Elder Futhark. The inscriptions were usually carved from right to left; many of the runes did not have any lowercase so they could be written in any direction. The runes were never spoken, they were only written. People back then believed that these symbols were sacred and powerful. Women used the runes to tell fortunes and cast lots. This runic alphabet was not used for a writing system but it was also used for magical signs and they were also used for divination. There are many inscriptions found that talks about a medieval belief of runes. The runes were banned in church because they were not commonly used. Inscriptions were used for signatures, personal letters, rude messages, grave stones, religious and magic inscriptions, and for trade and politics. Six hundred inscriptions were found in Bergen, and they were made out of wood and bone. These inscriptions contained profane. The inscriptions on the runes were simple and based on artifacts that showed the identity of the craftsman who owned or developed the rune stone. The runic alphabet was spread around the world and is a common writing system.

The runic alphabet was mainly distributed in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Sweden has three-thousand-four-hundred and thirty rune stone inscriptions, Norway has one-thousand-five-hundred and fifty-two, and Denmark has eight-hundred and forty-four. Over the world there are six-thousand and eighty-one rune stone inscriptions. Each rune in the runic alphabet had a name that represented the sound of the rune. The names of the runes came in Proto-Germanic. Runic alphabets have Unicode to shape all the letters of the alphabet. Even though the runic alphabet was created around 2,000 years ago it is still popular and influential in Scandinavia.

Futhark, which is also known as the runic alphabet is developed over six letters of the alphabet, but Elder Futhark is the oldest. Futhark was used by Sweden, Denmark and Norway during the third and seventeenth centuries A.D. There are around three-thousand and five-hundred rune stones in Europe with this type of writing in it. There are seven different versions of the Futhark; Elder Futhark, Gothic runes, Anglo-Saxon Futhorc, Younger Futhark, Hungarian runes, Turkic runes, and Cirth. The Anglo-Saxon Futhorc was part of the runic alphabet that added six additional letters to the alphabet. Younger Futhark eventually developed into the Elder Futhark language. Hungarian runes developed from the Turkic script. The Turkic runes were alike to the runic alphabet and were also known as Orkhon alphabet. Even though Futhark has a number of different versions it’s still a well common writing system throughout the British Isles.

Futhark originated from the Turkish and Gokturk alphabet. The Futhark was evolved after the Old Italic alphabet. Many of the letters of the Old Italic alphabet were still used in the Futhark alphabet. Some of these letters come from Latin and Greek letters. It is also spoken in the German language. The three main alphabets of the Futhark are Elder Futhark, Old English Futhark, and Younger Futhark. Futhark changed over time due to the addition of new letters to the alphabet.

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Elder Futhark was one of the three versions of the Futhark alphabet in the British Isles. The Elder Futhark is the oldest runic alphabet, which was used by German tribes during the migration period. It was a common heritage for the Europeans. Many inscriptions were found during the second and eighth centuries. Inscriptions were found on jewelry, tools, weapons, and rune stones. As the years passed by the Elder Futhark became forgotten on how it was read. This alphabet has twenty-four runes in groups of three. The earliest use of the Elder Futhark was about 400 CE. It also originated from the Old Italic alphabets and from the Greek alphabet. The shapes of the letters were also angle shaped so people could write them easier on wood or metal, because many of the letters were from the Gothic alphabet. The Elder Futhark was later on developed into the Younger Futhark during the eighth century.

Inscriptions on artifacts such as jewelry, utensils, and weapons were usually written with Elder Futhark. Some artifacts were found in the Carpathians Mountains and Lapland, many of them were found in Denmark. Inscriptions on jewelry, utensils and weapons would usually be short and simple. Many of these inscriptions were found in graves. The oldest rune stone that was found with the writings of the Elder Futhark was in 160 B.C. The longest inscription in the Elder Futhark was two-hundred words on a rune stone that was found during the eighth century. Many rune stones in Scandinavia started to show writings of the Younger Futhark since the sixth century. During the ninth century the Elder and Younger Futhark were both being used and were also known. The inscriptions found before 500 A.D. that was found on the continent was divided into two groups, they were divided into the North Sea coast and Northern Germany. They were divided into the Saxons and Frisians.

There are about three-hundred inscriptions with the Elder Futhark system written on them. There are about eighty-one inscriptions that are known from the South such as Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In Scandinavia there are two-hundred and sixty-seven inscriptions that are known, many of these inscriptions were artifacts and around sixty-five were on rune stones. The inscriptions that are found in Scandinavia were from the Elder Futhark that began the Younger Futhark. Elder Futhark inscriptions were rare due to the population at the time that they made rune stones. Around forty-thousand rune stones were produced when ten people made ten inscriptions for each year for four centuries. There were many graves with inscriptions of the Elder Futhark which were commonly used.

The Younger Futhark is another version of the runic alphabet or Futhark. This is also called Scandinavian runes. It is also a smaller version of the Elder Futhark with only sixteen letters from 800 CE. Younger Futhark was established in 800 A.D., which was the beginning of the Viking Age. The smaller version was produced by the changes of language that was spoken. This change happened when Proto-Norse changed into Old Norse. Younger Futhark was different from Elder Futhark due to the different sounds from the runes. This alphabet was mainly used in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark throughout the Viking Age. The Younger Futhark did not replace the Latin alphabet due to the fact of how small it was. Younger Futhark became known as the alphabet of the Norsemen in Europe.

The Younger Futhark became divided into long-branch, which was Danish and short-twig which was Swedish and Norwegian. The long-branch was used to document important information, while short-twig were used for everyday use. When the Elder Futhark changed to the Younger Futhark, four more vowels were added to the alphabet. There was also more variety of sounds for the runes. The letters to the alphabet doubled so people could become adapted to Old English. Many of the Younger Futhark inscriptions were found in Denmark.

Once the Younger Futhark was established, many medieval runes developed from the Younger Futhark. During the Middle Ages Younger Futhark expanded and it soon became the medieval runes. The Medieval runes added new runes and more vowels to the alphabet. It added the letters s, c, and z to the alphabet. Inscriptions from Scandinavia begin to have different rune forms and new letters. The Medieval runes were not used until the 15th century. Out of all the inscriptions that were found, most of them contain medieval runes. More than 500 inscriptions have been found in Bergen during the 1950s. The inscriptions were found on wooden sticks, which indicated that the runes were commonly used with the Latin alphabet for centuries.

The early writing systems or the runic alphabets were important for the British Isles, and are also popular in culture today. Many of the Futhark versions are being used today and have long existed in the British Isles. Even though some of these systems are not used anymore they remain remembered by the influence that they had for a great impact on religion in Great Britain. Some inscriptions have been found but others remain out there waiting to be discovered. Questions still remain to be answered and much information still remains as a mystery.


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