Object of the month: Runic inscriptions from Bæskades

Monthly Artifacts

These wooden sticks were found in the mountain area Bæskades in Alta. They are inscribed with runes, Latin letters and numbers. One of the sticks has the numbers “4/6-1967” inscribed, which we believe is a date. Ahead of the numbers, we find runes and letters. Maybe they symbolize the person’s name.

Runic inscriptions on wooden sticks is an old way of conveying short messages between people. In the Middle Ages it was common to carve messages onto small pieces of wood and give it to the recipient. This appears to have occurred even during church mass, since inscribed wooden sticks have been found underneath church floors in much of Southern Norway. Messages on the sticks vary from declarations of love to trade and gossip.

In Finnmark engraved wooden sticks have been found mainly on mountaintops near cairns, and by rest stops along reindeer trekking routes. These sticks typically have names and dates carved onto them, to convey the message: “I was here at this time”. This tradition helped locate someone in the landscape if needed, and still exists today among some reindeer herders and hikers.

Messages on wooden sticks may be compared with the use of cell phones today. Back in the day someone would leave behind an inscribed stick, while today hikers send a text message on their cell phone to give notice on their whereabouts.