The Oseberg Ship’s Mystical Runic Inscriptions: “Man Knows Little”

Oseberg Ship OsloLite vet mennesketThe Runic inscriptions that have been found written on the Oseberg ship has caused many people to wonder: Runes can be read both ways, but one interpretation is “litet-vis maðr”, “man knows little”. So what did the Vikings know that we do not? 

The Oseberg ship was built around 800 AD, and in 834 it was used as a burial ship for two wealthy women.

The Oseberg mound is the richest Viking burial site ever found. Its content triggers many questions about “the final journey”. The mound contained a ship, and inside the burial chamber were two women, an elderly aged between 70 and 80 and a younger about 50 years old. The items that were found included four horse sleighs, a richly decorated chariot, seven beds and several woven tapestries.

There were also found animal bones from fourteen or fifteen horses, a cat, a Eurasian woodcock, a red-breasted merganser, a bull, a cow and four dogs.

(Article continues)

Oseberg Viking Ship Excavation 1904

The Oseberg excavation was led by Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson in 1904-1905. (Photo: Oslo University)

The oral narrative tradition was strong with the Vikings and their history is documented in the sagas written down after the end of the Viking period. The Vikings left little written material – and the few objects found is primarily incidental findings of runic inscriptions. Runes had straight lines and were specially designed to be cut into hard materials like wood and stone with primitive tools.

The beautifully decorated Oseberg ship is now on display at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Top photo: Store Norske Leksikon

Categories: Culture, History, Vikings

10 replies

  1. I just came back from a trip to Norway and visited the Viking Ship Museum – gave me goose bumps!! The craftsman ship on the items there is beyond amazing! Absolutely stunning and awe inspiring!

  2. “The Vikings left little written material ….” This line makes me wonder how informed this writer really is, Ancient Nordic writings were burned in throngs by invading Christians, what has survived is very little.

    • Hi Valerie!

      You are very wrong. What are your sources?

      Scientific fact: There is found extremely little written material dating back to the Viking Age (about 800 – 1066 AD):

      1) The Vikings carved runes into stone, bone and wood. Futhark – the runic alphabet – is designed for carving into hard materials. The Vikings did not use Latin letters and/or parchment.

      “Ancient Nordic writings were burned in throngs by invading Christians, what has survived is very little” (?)

      What was burned? Stones? Wood? No sources document your statement. The first Viking was Christianized in England, probably about 940 AD – keeping both faiths for pragmatic reasons. And who was the invading Christians? The Nordic countries were never invaded by other countries during the Viking Age – actually not before WWII.

      2) The medieval Vikings had a strong oral tradition and the Sagas were passed on from generation to generation. They were first written down (on parchment) in the 11th century by Icelanders like historian Snorri Sturlason.


      • How about Charlemagne killing thousands of Norse / germanic people because they refused to change to christianity? Also Germanic people were writing with Runes as far back as 150 BC ref the Cimbrian people. There is a roman helmet in the vienna museum with runes inscribed on the inside from 150bc. The Cimbrians came from what is now Denmark. The Germanic people traded extensively with the romans so to suggest they Never tried to write things down is ridiculous. Christians did everything they could to wipe out ANY evidence of previous gods including the runes which were made illegal all over scandinavia. This is why there is no written record from that time.

  3. “Man Knows Little” – Apparently, still relevant.

  4. Yes kristjan churches built their garbage on top of pagan sacred sites they burned to the ground. Who knows what may have been written on the walls or been located within these sites. Many writings on the runestones in these locations were lost when they were broken apart and used to build the kristjan church foundations. There are many sources you can find on this, and even reconstructed stones that have been pulled out of the walls of churches. who knows how many were lost to things like that. I never said they were invaded by another country, so I don’t know where you are going there, but as for kristjans…Do you not know of Olaf Tryggvason? Hahaha, what about Charlemagne? Charlemagne’s kristjan crusades and oath breaking is why the raids on monasteries like Lindisfarne began. Snorri was 13th century by the way. Are you sure you should call yourself Thors News?

  5. Is that a transcript of the actual inscription shown below the photo? “LITILUISH” it says, using the 16-character “younger futhark” which was common ca 700-1000. Where on the boat was the inscription found?

    The runes were not made for ust any old hard material, they were made specifically for writing in wood. That is, the older futhark. Younger futhark and later developments used some characters that would be hard to distinguish in wood – one example is the “H” last in the picture above (“cross mark”). All charaters of the older futhark had one vertical “stave” (line) and every line that crossed this one would slope. There would be no horizontal lines, as these would disappear visually among the oars of the wood and hence become invisible. This would make the rune unreadable.

    So, if they did not only risti in staves, on what did the Old Norse write, you ask. Bark. Birch bark, to be specific.

    That invasion thing… I tend to use the same words, but these words are partially inaccurate. What came from outside was the christian religion, the church, and christian clerics. The invasion force was of our own blood and kin. Our own kings, chieftains etc having been christened in advance rode around the countryside with their armies and murdered all opposition. So, it was more like a modern day Syrian president exterminating part of his own people than it was like the Nazi invasion. A genocide would be the precise word, not an invasion. You may also talk of a civil war, of sorts.

    In essence, the Christian religion was foreign to us, and that religion — coming from the Levant (arab countries) originally — was the very reason for this “consolidation of power” as it’s often labelled in history books. The hierarchical and bureaucratic christian organisation contained the building blocks of what is currently seen as “a state”, enabling a large area to be controlled by few persons. This was generally not possible before, only for shorter periods. Vita Krist brought the tools, and Vita Krist came from outside.

    So, the word invasion does still seem appropriate to me. It does appear like our own leaders were used as blunt weapons against us – by the foreign religion. In later times the church got several armies of its own, but thats another story.

    The history books are written by the winners. Man knows so little.

    • Corrections, errata, etc (the reason it akes me so long to write):

      (1) “Oars of the wood”: Should have been “Veins of the wood” – bad translation from Danish, where vein and oar is the same word.

      (2) Birch barch: My statement that birch barch was used as paper is not a statement that the Christians burned Old Norse writings “in throngs” as another commenter suggested. They may have done so, they may have not, my personal knowlege is at loss here.

      (3) Peaceful “conversion” or violent “christening”: The official story that christening took place mostly voluntarily and that there was a long period of tolerance/dual faith is what is generally promoted in history books. However, we also have accounts of people getting “an offer they couldn’t refuse”, ie the choice between christening and death. So, the official story should be taken with several grains of salt, as always. I am not able to tell exactly how widespread the forceful christening was, or how widespread the tolerance was. My best bet is that there were strong regional differences. It seems to me that in Denmark the church tried hard to simply erase all traces of the former culture, while in Norway they were not quite as enthusiastic. But even within (the recent) country borders separating us into two there may have been regional differences.

      (4) Invasion revisited: What I forgot to mention is the myth of Ragnarök. Some interpret that myth to be a poetic accord of the christening itself. In this interpretation the giant Súrt (“black”) coming from south and killing Odin, is the christian church. Only, in this case Súrt seems to have been Vít (“white” as in “Vita Krist”, a very early Norse name of Jesus).

      I think that was it.


  1. Vähän tietää ihminen – ”Osebergin Buddhan” salaisuus - Viisas Elämä
  2. Litet-vis-madr – Bjørnland Hird

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