One of the most important contributors to our understanding of older runic epigraphy, Elmer Antonsen was a controversial scholar. Best remembered for bringing an overtly structural and neo-Bloomfieldian approach to the study of the earliest inscriptions, he was also something of a contrarian, promoting readings and interpretations of older runic texts which did not find much support in the broader runological historiography. This paper examines some of his more lasting contributions to the epigraphic field in terms of his analyses of a handful of older runic inscriptions.

Antonsen’s interpretations were often more structurally informed than those of his predecessors. Yet his analyses were also often inconsiderate of the reader and immoderate in their claims. His assessment of the anthroponym bidawarjaz on the Nøvling fibula, for example, seems to have been correct at the lexical level, but was poorly explained and over-claiming. Attempting to translate the text as if it were Indo-European rather than Germanic was methodologically unwarranted, even if Antonsen’s basic etymological insight seems essentially to have been correct.

His interpretation of the anthroponym on the Lindholmen bone piece was similarly unexpected and under-explained. Yet his basic etymological insight accords strikingly well with a fuller morphological analysis of the Indo-European term for ‘sun’, as well as a typological analysis of the find.

Antonsen’s interpretation of the inscription on the Reistad stone is perhaps the most striking. The recent discovery of a second rune-inscribed bracteate at Trollhättan provides an answer to his critics that was not available in Antonsen’s lifetime. His analysis, based on typological and phonological considerations, has been criticized at the empirical level. But it makes considerably more sense than the interpretations put forward by other scholars.