NMS-63179C: Lead middle Saxon lead plaque with runic inscription

Rights Holder: Norfolk County Council
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Rights Holder: Norfolk County Council
CC License:

Rights Holder: Norfolk County Council
CC License:

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Unique ID: NMS-63179C

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

Distorted Middle Saxon to Late Saxon lead plaque with runic inscription, rectangular with one rounded corner near which is a circular perforation. Dimensions; 29mm x 24mm x 1.2mm. Weight 7.73g. Hole diameter 4mm. The first character of the inscription appears to be missing but the sequence looks to read dwerg 'dwarf' and the plaque may have been intended as a charm against fever or some other disease. Mid 8th - 11th century AD.

We are indebted to Dr Gaby Waxenberger of the Department of English and American Studies Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and to Professor John Hines of Cardiff University for the interpretation of the inscription. Dr Waxenberger's full interpretation of the inscription is attached to the notes section of this record, along with a supplementary identification by Professor Hines.


Interpretation by Dr Gaby Waxenberger of the RuneS: research centre Eichstätt-Munich

Side A: inscription = (??)ead i sd w

Side B: inscription = e {r/u} g

(??)ea d i s d w e {u/r} g

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Rune nos. 6-10: dwerg

Theoretically, rune no. 9 could also be u but r is more likely. Therefore the sequence reads:

dwerg 'dwarf'. dwerg is an Anglian form because of a sound change called Anglian Smoothing.

1. Anglian Smoothing:

There is a dialectal difference between West Saxon -eo- and Angl. -e-.

Pre-Old English *e + r + Consonant was broken to eo + r + Consonant; it stayed -eo- in West Saxon but was smoothed in Anglian in the environment Old English *e + r + /x/.[1]

2. Spelling <g> is the correct etymological spelling.

The spelling for Auslautverhärtung (= devoicing) would be <h> (see below Dictionary of Old English)

3. Obscure[2] bind-rune (ea Å

The first attestation of the obscure bind-rune (ea Å is on the Ruthwell Cross (ca. 750). As the RC carver designed the new runes gār ¡ and rune no. 31 ®, it may be possible that he also designed rune (ea Å for the diphthongs long and short ea/ēa and eo/ēo. If this is correct, the rune (ea Å would gradually have spread to the south (see Table 2). The Gandersheim Casket has been seen as Mercian (Webster 2000; Waxenberger 2003); it may even be a Peterborough product (Webster 2000:79; Bailey 2000:50). If this is case, the rune (ea Å must have been in use in Mercia from ca. 800 onwards.

Table 1: The diphthongs ea/ēa (and Northumbrian eo/ēo) represented by the rune (ea (no. 28)


(ea Å (no. 28) for eo, ēo, ēa


RC (ca. 750):

RC NW: [...](ea[.]du[.] (= behēoldon)

RC SW: f(earran (= feorran)

RC SE: h{eafunæs (= heofunæs)

2. Thornhill Stone II: {eadred Eadrēd/Eadred

(ca. 750-9th cent.) {eate§nne ?Eadþegn


London Thames scramasax: b{eagnoþ Bēagnōþ

(8th-9th-(10th cent.))


Gandersheim/Brunswick Casket: æl§hæli(ea

(ca. 800) æl§hæli(ea

The bind-rune proper (two runes sharing one stave) is found on the following objects. The un-provenanced and linguistically indecisive Rome Graffiti in the Cimitero di Commodilla (689-801) and the Catacombs ad duas Lauros (ca. 650 - the end of the 8th/beginning of the 9th cent.) were cut between ca. 650-800. Both show bind-runes proper EA to render (ea(dbald. If the Rome Graffiti were carved before the inscription on the RC, that is, before ca. 750, the bind-rune proper could be seen as an indication that the new rune had not been created yet. On the premise that the Rome Graffiti were later than the RC text, it would indicate that the Rome designer(s)/carver(s) did not yet know the new rune.

Table 2: The diphthongs ea/ēa (and eo/ēo) and their realizations by æa AA and ©e+a EA


æa AA for ēa

©e+a EA for ēa


1. Rome Cimitero (ea(dbald Eadbald

di Commodilla

Graffito (689-801):

2. Rome Catacombs (eadbald Eadbald

ad duas Lauros

(ca. 650 - the end of the 8th/

beginning of the 9th cent.):


Mortain Casket: æadan Eada

(ca. 750-9th cent.)

3. The first two vertical lines marked as ?? cannot be resolved.

4. Meaning of the inscriptions

4.1 There are two meanings in Dictionary of Old English in Electronic Form (2003:s.v. dweorg) for the noun dwerg:

1. 'dwarf, pygmy' and 2. 'fever, perhaps high fever with delirium and convulsions' (see below for the entry in the Dictionary of Old English in Electronic Form (2003:s.v.).

4.2 The sequence ?? )ea d i s

When the first two vertical lines are ignored, my reading and interpretation is as follows:


This sequence can be parsed as

[??])ead is dwerg


The noun ēad 'happiness, well-being; wealth, riches' (neutr.; a-stem) [DOEEF 2003:s.v. ēad] does not make sense in my opinion. If the sequence [??])eadis is parsed into [??])ead is, the sequence is (3rd pers. sg. pres. ind. of the verb bēon 'to be') would be the Mercian and Northumbrian form for 'is'. In this case the whole sequence would read:

1. 'XX is a dwarf' or possibly

2. 'XX is fever' or possibly

3. 'XX is high fever with delirium and convulsions' (see below DOEFF entry no. 2).

If the sequence was intended to denote a disease, the sequence [??])ead may give the (Lat. or Greek) name of the disease (possibly in a truncated form).

5. Interpretation

The lead plate may have been meant as a charm against fever or some other disease. The problem of the text is the first character which seems to be missing.

However, the rune (ea Å may be seen as additional support for the date (8th cent.).

Dictionary of Old English in Electronic Form (2003:s.v. dweorg):

Att. sp.: dweorg, dweorh | dworh (Charm 13.2) | duerg, duerh (ErfGl).

Anom. form: werc (ClGl).

Late: dueorge (PeriD, xiii)

15 occ.


dwarf, pygmy

ÆGl 302.3: nanus dweorh.

CollGl 11 11r: nanus dweorh.

EpGl 550: nanus uel pumilio duerg (ErfGl 687, CorpGl 12.38 duerg).

ErfGl 3 58: humilio, nanus duerh (humilio for pumilio; cf. ALDH. Ped.reg. 116, 159.18 nanus [id est pumilio]).

AntGl 6 781: pigmeus ł nanus ł pumilio dweorh (perh. from ISID. Etym. 11.3.7 alia parvitate totius corporis, ut nani, vel quos Graeci Pygmaeos vocant, eo quod sint statura cubitales).

ClGl 1 4290: nanus werc (ClGl 3 78 werc).


fever, perhaps high fever with delirium and convulsions (? cf. þeor)

PeriD 31.14: hwile he riþaþ swylce he on dueorge sy (cf. PS.PETR.SAL. Pract. 42.30.8 interdum, et febriunt).

MCharm 3 1: wið dweorh, man sceal niman VII lytle oflætan swylce man mid ofrað, & <writan> þas naman on ælcre oflætan, Maximianus, Malchus, Iohannes, Martinianus, Dionisius, Constantinus, Serafion (elsewhere the Seven Sleepers are invoked against fever).

Med 1.1 10.17: dweorg onweg to donne, hwites hundes þost gecnucadne to duste & <gemænged> wið meolowe & <to> cicle abacen (B dweorh; cf. L: ad verrucas tollendas).

Charm 13.2 1: wið þone dworh on III oflætan writ.

Med 3 87.1: writ ðis ondlang da earmas wiþ dweorh, & gnid cyleðenigean on ealað, sanctus Macutus sancte victorici (Med 3 88.1 dweorh).

Lat. equiv. in MS: nanus, pumilio, Pygmaeus

See also: dweorgedwostle

MED dwergh. OED2 dwarf sb. and a. PNE dwerg, dweorg.

EpGl (Pheifer) D7

Latin-Old English Glossaries: Pheifer 1974 3-58 (Epinal MS.); Pheifer, J.D., Old English Glosses in the Epinal-Erfurt Glossary (Oxford); corrections by Brown 1969; Brown, A.K., 'The Epinal Glossary' (Stanford diss.).

Cited by gloss no. assigned consecutively by DOE, following corrected ed.

ErfGl 1 (Pheifer)

[1]/x/ = the last sound in the German word ach; very similar to the last sound in Scottish English loch.

[2]I call this bind-rune obscure because it is not a bind-rune proper where two runes share one main-stave. For the bind-rune proper, see Table 2.

Supplementary to Gaby Waxenberger's initial assessment by Professor John Hines

After careful examination and photography of this object, I am confident that the runic inscription around two edges of one face of the cut lead sheet can be fully identified and read. The text is a protective or healing charm of considerable interest.

The runes are those of the Anglo-Saxon fuþorc, the most distinctive feature of which is the peculiar rune for the diphthong ea that stands second in the inscription. This rune has not been found any inscription earlier than the 8th century, the earliest relatively closely datable example being the Ruthwell Cross inscription, quite likely of the second quarter of the 8th century.

The only partially effaced and obscured part of the inscription is the very beginning, where to the naked eye what could be the two runes þ and i are immediately visible. Under photographic magnification, however, the continuation of the by-staves on the first vertical stave to cross one another and join the second stave to produce exactly the same d rune as runes 3 and 6 of the inscription is adequately clear.

Other anomalies in the inscription are a small rising line at mid-height just to the left of rune 4, otherwise the simple vertical stave of the i rune, and a cut line like a horizontal bar over rune 5, an unusual but unambiguous form of the s rune. But there is no good runological or philological reason to regard these marks as anything other than extraneous and insignificant, possibly just carelessly or accidentally cut.

The text can be read, therefore, as d ea d i s d w e r g . This is impeccable Old English for 'Dead is the/a dwarf.' The existence of an Old English charm Wiþ dweorh, 'Against a dwarf', in the late 10th- or early 11th-century compilation Lacnunga graphically illustrates the folkloristic perception of the dwarf as a sprite that could be seriously harmful, and which was to be withstood, not just with herbal lore but also with word-magic.

The plaque, found close to the site of a church, is a perfect counterpart in the form of direct evidence of practical medico-magic. It seems possible, indeed, that the crudely incised motif in the centre of the inscribed face of the plaque was meant to represent the grotesque face of a dwarf.

It is very difficult to date this piece closely. The spellings dwerg and dwerh is attested from as early as the 8th century as a form showing the dialectally appropriate Anglian sound-change of the 'smoothing' of diphthongs to monophthongs before certain consonant groups (see Waxenberger on the alternative endings -g and -h). The other Anglo-Saxon finds from where this plaque was found, both metalwork and pottery, within an assemblage ranging from the Roman to the Post-Medieval periods, cover the later 8th to 11th centuries. Any time in that date-bracket is plausible for this inscription. If it were later than the 9th century, it would suggest a relatively learned continued use of runes for healing purposes after the writing of Old English in runes was widely abandoned. Other finds from the site, however, undoubtedly render it possible that this belongs to the period up to the first half of the 9th century in which Old English runic writing was widespread and flourishing.

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: EARLY MEDIEVAL
Subperiod from: Middle
Subperiod to: Early
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: Circa AD 750
Date to: Circa AD 1100

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 29 mm
Width: 24 mm
Thickness: 1.2 mm
Weight: 7.73 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Tuesday 1st September 2015 - Thursday 15th October 2015

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Dr Andrew Rogerson
Identified by: Dr Gaby Waxenberger

Other reference numbers

SMR reference number: 60948
Other reference: BM112015

Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead
Completeness: Complete
Surface Treatment: Incised or engraved or chased

Spatial metadata

Region: Eastern (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Norfolk (County)
District: North Norfolk (District)
To be known as: near Fakenham

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: Generated from computer mapping software
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 10 metre square.

References cited

No references cited so far.

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Recording Institution: NMS
Created: 3 years ago
Updated: 7 months ago

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