The mystery of the rune disc

This glorious Sunday we spent in Lyking, trying to get to the bottom of a mystery. We had invited Andrea Blendl along: She is doing a PhD on runic inscriptions, and I (Raggie) am one of her supervisors. Andrea had for some time tried to find out more about the history of a rune inscribed stone disc, which is on diplay at nearby Skaill House.

Stackrue Broch at Lyking, Orkney. The road cuts through this broch. A rune inscribed stone disc was found here in the 1850s.
Stackrue Broch at Lyking, Orkney. The road cuts through this broch. A rune inscribed stone disc was found here in the 1850s.

Today, the modern road cuts right through the broch! But you can still see the curved wall like a crescent moon at the side of the road.

We were interested in finding out why there should be a Viking rune inscribed stone disc found in an Iron Age broch. Andrea had done some research and discovered that there were also reports of a Viking Age burial in the area, but the antiquarian descriptions were rather vague, so it was not easy to determine whether they meant right on the broch mound, or somewhere in the vicinity.

The text on the disc is not easy to interpret. It is partly written in odd looking runes, which may be bind-runes (ligatures) or else a runic cipher code known as Twig Runes. There are many of these in Orkney, and not all are genuinely old. However, counting in favour of its Viking/Medieval origin is that it was the very first runic text to be found in Orkney, even predating the Maeshowe excavation in 1861, so it is clearly not imitating these later twig rune discoveries.

Several readings and interpretations have been suggested. One word that seems to emerge with some more clarity than the rest is the word “God”. The disc is also divided in four sections, with a cross.

Lyking must have been a place with lots of activity in Norse times. The place name means Sports Field, where they would have enjoyed ball games, horse racing, wrestling and other sports.

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