Little is known about the origins of the Runic alphabet, which is traditionally known as futhark after the first six letters. In Old Norse the word rune means 'letter', 'text' or 'inscription'. The word also means 'mystery' or 'secret' in Old Germanic languages, and runes had an important role in ritual and magic. Here are some theories about the origins of runes:
- The alphabet was probably created independently rather than evolving from another alphabet.
- Runic writing was probably first used in southern Europe and was carried north by Germanic tribes.
- The Runic alphabet is thought to have been modelled on the Latin and/or Etruscan alphabet.
The earliest known Runic inscriptions date from the 1st century AD, but the vast majority of Runic inscriptions date from the 11th century. Runic inscriptions have been found throughout Europe from the Balkans to Germany, Scandinavia and the British Isles. The Notable features are the direction of writing in early Runic inscriptions is variable. Later they settled down into a left to right pattern, and the Word divisions were not generally recognised in Runic writing, although one or more dots were occasionally used for this function. Elder Futhark is thought to be the oldest version of the Runic alphabet, and was used in the parts of Europe which were home to Germanic peoples, including Scandinavia. Other versions probably developed from it. The names of the letters are shown in Common Germanic, the reconstructed ancestor of all Germanic languages. This nice card was sent to me by Kristiny from Norway.