This paper considers the changing nature of discourse surrounding monuments bearing runic inscriptions in the Northern Isles. In particular it will examine the runic inscription (Br OR05) on one stone from the late Neolithic/ early Bronze Age Ring of Brodgar. This is an uncertain inscription; its ‘Viking age’ authenticity is not validated. Amongst its interpretations it is variously thought to be a twelfth century graffito (reported in popular archaeological guides to Orkney, eg. Wickham-Jones 2011: 43) constructed in cipher code or an antiquarian addition in response to increased interest in runes (especially cryptic) after the Victorian excavations of Maes Howe in the 1860s.
By examining both popular and academic discourse — image and text — surrounding this inscription the various differences in interpretation, orthography and dating can be analysed within their cultural contexts. Emphasis will be placed on discerning and evaluating the changing cultural attitudes towards runic script and its particular role and presence on the Ring of Brodgar. This includes discourses of identity, nationality, history, faith and folk belief both past and contemporary.