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Sep 23, 2013

Medieval Mondays: Early Irish Ogam

The Great Court at the British Museum is full of interesting objects such as Greek statues and Native American totem poles. Off to one side is a simple slab of rock that many people pass by. From a distance it doesn't look like much but it's perhaps the rarest object in the room.

If you look more closely, you'll see a series of slashes cut into the rock. This is a simple form of writing called Ogam. The Irish developed Ogam in the 4th century AD. The system was simple: letters were made up of one to five slashes, either short or long, on either side of a natural edge of the rock or a carved line. Slanted lines and lines that cut across the dividing line were also used. It was generally read counter-clockwise.

This particular stone dates to the 5th century and was found along with two others, having been reused to build a later medieval fort. The inscription reads, "[stone] of Vedac, [son] of Tob of the Sogain."

Such a short inscription is common with Ogam. Like Viking runestones, most Ogam stones were simple memorials that only recorded the carver and who the stone was dedicated to. Ogam died out after a couple of centuries as it was replaced by Latin.



  1. When an object is in a museum, I never pass it by. I want to know why it's there. This sort of object would capture my attention. I like curious objects. I'd love to see the British Museum, one day. Thanks for sharing.

  2. From Ogam to Latin - now that's a leap!