Mysterious 900-year-old Viking code deciphered to reveal 'Kiss me' love message

The jötunvillur code has baffled experts for years as one of the many ciphers that were used to exchange love notes and boasts

A 900 year-old runic code used by ancient Vikings has been cracked for the first time, revealing a simple message:‘Kiss me!’.

K Jonas Nordby, a runeologist from the University of Oslo, was able to crack the puzzle of the jötunvillur code after he noticed that two individuals had signed their names on a piece of wood both in code and in the regular runic alphabet. He says that the message is typical of the light-hearted use of runes at the time.

“The code gives many possible readings when deciphered and so cannot have been used for ordinary communication,” Nordby told The Independent. “Therefore I believe it is a kind of playful writing practice that was used to learn the names of the runes and their sound values.”

Nordby says that the exchange of these brief runic messages was a common part of Scandinavian Viking and Medieval society, and that the missives - carved mostly into wood and bone – could be used for anything from love-notes to receipts.

Runes are not a language, but an Old Germanic alphabet that is thought to have been developed some time in the first century CE. Although only nine examples of the jötunvillur code have been found, Nordby says that there are other ciphers that are more common.

An example of the more elaborate rune codes where the text has been written using the hairs of the beards. Credit: Aslak Liestol/Museum of Cultural History

“Rune sticks and bone was used for all kinds of everyday messages and writing practice,” says Nordby, “And there are lots of ordinary runic inscriptions from the 1100s to 1300s with romantic messages. One examples reads: ‘So much do I love another man’s woman that the wide mountains shiver. Wonderful ring-woman! We love each other so much that the earth explodes!’”

Sometimes, the playfulness of these codes even strayed into the pictorial, with the vertical ‘staves’ and diagonal ‘branches’ of the runic alphabet woven into doodles including faces with beards and the fins of fish.

Runes were used across Northern Europe including England until around 1000 (the use continued in Scandinavia until the 15th Century) and there was obviously some prestige associated with their use. One example from the Orkney Islands reads more like a piece of graffiti, boasting “These runes were carved by the most rune-literate man west of the sea”.

Nordby’s work has been enthusiastically received by the academic community, with Henrik Williams, an expert on runes from Uppsala University, hailing the discovery as “pure detective work”.

“Above all, it helps us understand that there were more codes than we were aware of. Each runic inscription we interpret raises our hopes of soon being able to read more,” he told Science Nordic.

Williams also agrees that in the case of the jötunvillur code it’s likely that the runes were being used as part of the learning process. “They challenged the reader, demonstrated skills, and testify to a joy in reading and writing,” he said.  “But personally I think jötunvillur is an idiotic code, because whoever made it chose a system that is so hard to interpret.”

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager (District Heating)

£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn