Where to find Orkney runes … in Edinburgh

As you will have gathered from my previous post, Orkney is amazing. If you are not local and have the chance to travel there, do it! However, getting to Orkney is not easy and can be quite expensive. Therefore, here is a handy guide how to find Orkney runes if you cannot make it to our beautiful archipelago.

In fact, you can find a surprising number of Orcadian runic inscriptions right in the Scottish capital namely in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. If you are wondering how they got there, this is mostly due to gentlemen with antiquarian interests in the 19th and earlier 20th century who excavated or bought the objects and then donated them to the museum or the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Here is a list of objects which are currently on display (and it’s free entry, too!):

In the “Early People” galleries, you will find a display case on the history of writing. This contains a rune-inscribed steatite spindle whorl from Stromness and bear’s tooth inscribed with “futhark” from the Brough of Birsay (a copy of it is on display in Orkney Museum). P1020396

This is the case you want to be looking for. Not only runes but plenty of other inscribed objects, too

Next to this case, rune-inscribed stones are on display. Among others from the rest of Scotland, there is a stone with two different inscriptions from the Brough of Birsay, a stone with potentially two twig runes from near Brodgar Farm and even a fragment of a Maeshowe inscription – it ended up there after a failed attempt to take a plaster cast of the inscription in the 19th century made the whole thing fall off the tomb wall.

P1020389

The rune-inscribed stone from the Brough of Birsay was discovered by Hugh Marwick in 1927

Of course, the museum has a lot more to offer. If you are there, don’t forget to look out for the magnificent Hunterston Brooch, and take special note of the runes on its back. Also worth a visit is for example the amazing Skaill Hoard, the largest Viking silver hoard ever found in Orkney, or the beautiful Lewis Chessmen.

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