In just over a week, the public will have the opportunity to view the globally newsworthy knife at Møntergården in Odense.

This knife, almost 2,000 years old and described in its runic inscription as a "small sword," will be on display from February 2 to April 7. 

The knife's runic inscription, comprising five runes and three grooves, reads "hirila," which experts believe can be translated to "Small Sword," suggesting a name or title either for the knife itself or its owner. Photo: Courtesy of the Museum Odense 

Denmark's earliest writings 

As The Viking Herald recently reported, the find on the island of Funen is of immense significance. It has changed our perception of the earliest writing in Denmark.

Director of the Museum Odense and archeologist Jakob Bonde takes up the story:

"The dig started in 2020, and the knife was actually found in 2021. In fact, we are still digging at the site, not far from the specific place where the knife was found." 

"The site contains a very big settlement with postholes from many houses and dwellings and also, of course, a number of burial places in various sizes." 

While the discovery was made a couple of years ago, its significance was not immediately apparent. As Jakob explains, it was only fairly recently that a closer analysis revealed its secrets from nearly 2,000 years ago:

"The knife was found below a small urn grave, and when we first found it, we could not see anything unusual about it. The knife was made of iron, and it was, of course, interesting because it was part of the grave goods."

"It was not until the museum's conservation department gently cleaned it in 2023 that we could see a fine ornament on one side of the blade and the inscription containing six runes on the other." 

Runes, an ancient Germanic alphabet, are usually found on stones carved during the Viking era – such as the famous ones at Jelling, Denmark's most precious national monuments, carved around 965 CE. 

Since 2020, archaeologists at Tietgenbyen have been uncovering secrets like the rune-engraved knife, with the dig expected to reveal more until its conclusion in 2024. Photo: Courtesy of the Museum Odense

More questions than answers 

This recent discovery significantly broadens our contemporary understanding of Denmark's early runic heritage: 

"The knife is significant because of the runes. It is very unusual to find runes in context, and these particular ones can be dated as far back as 150 CE."

"Dating was ascertained by some of the other artifacts in the grave, which can be very accurately dated to this period of time. That makes this the oldest known runes in Denmark." 

"Only one more rune find can be dated to this period, and that is a comb found only 15 km from the so-called 'Small Sword.'"

"Lisbet Imer from the National Museum of Denmark has interpreted the inscription. She is an expert in runes and, after some analysis, saw that the inscription said hirila, which can probably be translated as 'Small Sword'." 

"We don't know if the name, because we think it is a name, refers to the item itself or its owner, but nevertheless, this note from the past tells us something about the oldest-known Danish or Scandinavian language." 

While the public peruses this unique find in the coming weeks, Jakob and his team will still be hard at work: 

"The dig continues until the summer of 2024, exploring the story about the landscape and the conditions in which the owner of 'Small Sword' lived." 

"Moreover, we plan to analyze the knife further. What kind of iron was it made from? Can we say anything more about where it came from? What does it tell us about the person who owned it and the society from which this person came?" 

Møntergården's exhibition, opening February 2, showcases the Tietgenbyen knife and related artifacts, with the 'Small Sword' on display until April 7. Photo: Courtesy of the Museum Odense

The exhibition at Møntergården 

Starting Friday, February 2, at 3 pm, you will have the opportunity to view the knife adorned with unique runes and other artifacts from the same burial site in Tietgenbyen at Møntergården in Odense. 

The exhibition includes several other significant artifacts from the same period, which are part of Møntergården's permanent collection. 

The "Small Sword" will remain on display until Sunday, April 7.

Location: Møntergården, Møntestraede 1, 5000 Odense C, Denmark.
Opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am-4 pm.
Admission: Dkr 100, free admission for those under 17. 

The exhibition will be open on Monday, February 12, featuring special activities for children. 

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