New additions to the modest corpus of Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions are always to be welcomed, and a number of new discoveries have been made in recent years. This paper reports on two inscriptions in Britain, one of which can be added to the Anglo-Saxon corpus and one to the less well-studied corpus of probable modern inscriptions.
The first – and, for runologists, the more significant – is an inscription in Anglo-Saxon runes on a church wall at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire. It was discovered by Prof. Dominic Powlesland and recently brought to the attention of runologists. The inscription is in poor condition, but is rendered (partly) legible by the use of modern imaging technology, which allows us to view the object in ways that would be impossible with the naked eye or with conventional photography. Possible readings and interpretations will be discussed in the paper.
The other “new” inscription presents a different set of problems. It was discovered in 1996 on a rock at Portormin, Caithness, and received some attention in the local press; but it has been largely ignored by academics due to the probability that it is of modern origin (Barnes and Page inspected the stone, but excluded it from their publications for this reason). The characters are easily legible, for the most part, but nonetheless present difficulties of interpretation. The reasons for suspicion in this case are strong, but they can (and should) prompt us to wonder whether we can establish more rigorous methods for establishing authenticity. Other suspect inscriptions which have been subjected to intensive investigation – such as the Kleines Schulerloch cave inscription and the Kensington runestone – remain controversial. If, as seems most likely, the Portormin inscription is modern, it is nonetheless an interesting artefact which deserves to be recorded and studied.