When dealing with documenting runic inscriptions, there are two ways in which the inscription is presented: individually, dealing with its transliteration, interpretation, background, etc. and/or as part of a larger corpus with which the inscription may share some commonalities. These commonalities may be graphic, phonetic, archaeological, etc., but in this paper I will talk about grouping the older futhark inscriptions in terms of function or purpose.

During my previous research on the pre-eighth century inscriptions located within modern-day England, Germany and Denmark, I have realised that patterns of purpose evolution can be observed in the inscriptions, and that distinct purpose-groups develop within certain time-frames and geographic locations, closely linked by other commonalities such as type of object and material used. In this paper I will present a statistical analysis of these commonalities in the older runic inscriptions and conclude that an inscription from a certain period in a certain location is statistically bound to belong within a defined purpose-group, with little exception.

This analysis and consequent grouping can help interpret difficult inscriptions by attaching a “likely” typology to the inscription once it is dated and the origin known. It attempts to provide a methodology to help dephicer new findings when interpretation is difficult. The analysis of the evolution of the purposes of early runic writing is also a significant aid when trying to understand the origin of the script and its initial purpose.