Documentation of runic inscriptions is a many-faceted endeavor. It ranges from reading protocols produced during the examination of inscriptions to techniques for documenting (a) visually, (b) physically, and (c) natural-scientifically what is observed on the runic object.

Reading protocols have not changed much over the years. They still consist of sketches – more or less exact – and a rune-by-rune objective description of what is observed, as a rule entailing identification of rune form, and notes about any damage, deviation from standard form, and the like. This will not be a major part of the presentation.

Visual documentation entails the production of drawings and/or photographs. Drawings were the earliest form of documentation, and have been used since the late 1500s/1600s. Over a century ago, professional draftsmen were engaged to produce drawings of what the researcher thought to see. In the 1900s, however, photography made its entrance into the service of runic epigraphy. Drawings are still extremely important, especially when runes are difficult to reproduce clearly by photography.

Examination is a prerequisite for most photographic documentation. If the runologist does not know what he is trying to document, the light may be placed in the wrong position and important details of rune forms concealed rather than revealed. Light is the key factor for good runic photography. The best source of light is the sun, but it does not always cooperate on days set aside for inspection. When it does, it may be in the wrong position, and then a mirror can come in quite handy. Tips concerning photography will be provided in the lecture; many of these will be about lighting methods and be transferrable to examination or inscriptions. Documentation of various problematic aspects of reading runes will be illustrated: damage to characters, runes at breaks in objects, pressure marks versus cuts, dotting of runes, etc. Examples will be taken mainly from inscriptions on wood and bone, but those on stone and in metal will also be exemplified. It must be stressed that photographs are not 100 % objective.

There are various techniques for documenting runic inscriptions physically, and these have been used in one form or another for centuries. Rubbings can be made, impressions (negatives) or casts (positives) produced, etc. Particularly in the case of lost or damaged inscriptions, older rubbings, impressions and casts can constitute primary documentation.

For the physical documentation of runic inscriptions, examination is not a prerequisite. A rubbing can be made without any idea of what the readings are. Also natural-scientific documentation is not at all dependent on examination. Three rather recent procedures for the natural-scientific documentation of runic inscriptions are: (a) microscopic investigations, including light-section microscopy (e.g. in Peter Pieper’s work with the Weser runic bones), other high-precision microscopy, and even Scanning Electron Microscopy, (b) laser measuring (or 3D photography), such as that performed on the Kuli stone from Norway, and (c) RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging), recently performed on the Myklebostad stone from Norway. The results of these documentary procedures are quantified and objective, but cannot be used on their own as objective proof of readings; they must be evaluated, and checked against the runic object by personal examination.