Runeing along the Silk Road

A team of intrepid researchers from Icelandic and Turkey are planning a three-month journey through Central Asia to research the origins of Runic writing, according to the Zaman online newspaper. They believe that Runic writing was transmitted to Europe from Mongolia via the Silk Road.

The usually explanation of the origins of the Orkhon script of Mongolia is that it developed from the Sogdian script, and that resemblances between it and the Runic scripts of Europe are probably coincidental. Perhaps the Turkish and Icelandic researchers will be able to shed new light on these scripts.

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4 Responses to Runeing along the Silk Road

  1. Joseph Staleknight says:

    Hmmm…. The script does look similar to runes, but that may not explain what impulses they had that caused such a thing.

  2. Geoff says:

    When you take up calligraphy, you quickly learn that what you’re writing with is as important as your technique for writing. You can make identical strokes with round, italic and square nibs, a ballpoint pen and a horsehair brush and they will all come out quite different. At the same time, looking at the different writing styles associated with the different writing tips reveals how letter forms get modified for maximum ease of writing. Indeed, the reason Chinese writing is as it is derives from the problem of making precise pictographs with certain types of writing instruments.

    Looking at the runes and the Orkhon, I see two writing systems where the tools available were good for vertical and diagonal strokes, but not so good for the rounded strokes we associate with Middle Eastern systems including Hebrew, Aramaic and especially Arabic. At least some of the Orkhon forms look vaguely related to the Sogdian in the same way that the katakana is vaguely related to old Chinese characters. Many of the runes, for their part, resemble Latin or Greek letters but with the same tenuous or faint connection. The one is of the East, the other of the West. Where the runes and the Orkhon coincide, by contrast, the characters seem (almost) always to mark completely different sounds.

    Being fascinated both by the Old Silk Road and by the mythical Valhalla, I would love to see some deep, mysterious connection come to light, binding these two regions and their languages and histories together centuries back in time. But I suspect that what these two writing systems actually have in common is their creation through mankind’s ingenuity at using the tools at hand to good effect.

  3. I’d say “Bingo!” to Geoff. Does anyone know of a site where the influence of writing tools (brush, pen, reed, chisel, …) and materials (papyrus, stone, leaves, …) on glyph shape and style is further explored? Mentions of the fact abound in literature about writing systems, but (to my humble knowlegde) no one seems to have done regular research in that area. Or is it just my ignorance? ;-)