Bone skates and boats

I just ran across an interesting bone skate in the Swedish History Museum’s catalog. It’s listed as having possible boat-like carvings. You can see them if you look carefully at the picture: right about the middle of the bone, just above the number written on it, there are some curved scratches.

Photograph by Ola Myrin, courtesy of the Swedish History Museum. Reproduced here under the terms of its Creative Commons 2.5 license. No changes were made to the image.

Are these scratches an intentional representation of a boat? It’s possible, and this skate would be quite interesting if they are. In that case, this skate becomes a tangible piece of evidence for the link between bone skates and boats in Norse mythology.

In Saxo Grammaticus’s History of the Danes and Olaus Magnus’s
Description of the Northern Peoples, the Norse god Ullr (or Ollerus, as Olaus Magnus calls him) has a magic bone inscribed with runes that he uses to cross the sea as fast as he could in a boat. The magic bone sounds like a bone skate, as long as the sea is frozen. Olaus Magnus’s illustrator seems to have been a little confused on this point, because his depiction makes it look more like a surfboard.

Ullr on his magic bone. From Olaus Magnus (1555:122).


Olaus Magnus. 1555. Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus. Rome: n.p.