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16 These valiant attempts do not have a lot in common. In fact, examples like these illustrate a primary epigraphical difficulty facing us when we deal with peoples who were otherwise illiterate. Harder, 'Die Runen der ags. Schwertinschrift im Britischen Museum', Archivf. d. Stud. d. ed. Schneider, 'Six OE Runic Inscriptions Reconsidered', Nordica et Anglica: Studies in Honor of Stefán Einarsson, ed. Odenstedt, 'The Chessell Down Runic Inscription', Archaeology and Environment 2 (1984), 1 13-26.

The first gives him insight into the possible meanings a letter group may express: the second restrains his fancy and holds his erudition in the bonds of common sense. In practice, of course, runologists tend to lean to one side or the other, to be primarily imaginative or primarily sceptical. One runological problem that illuminates this division, indeed conflict, of qualities, is that of the original purpose of runes; what the early Germanic peoples, who were otherwise illiterate, needed them for.

Or where the relationship between inscribed object and text looks so suggestive as to give a strong clue as to meaning. But unless such conditions apply, our examination is liable to end in speculation. For many of the earliest Anglo-Saxon inscriptions, and even for some of the later, we can only speculate: as, for example, with the roedeer's astragalus (ankle-bone such bones were used as playing-pieces in some sort of board game) from a cremation urn at Caistor-by-Norwich, the Loveden Hill urn, the two small bits of gold from the foreshore near Selsey, the Ash or Gilton/Guilton (Kent) sword-hilt, the Dover brooch, the cattlebone dug up at Hamwih (Southampton), the bracteate from Welbeck Hill (Lincolnshire/South Humberside), the bronze pail from Chessell Down, the badly corroded tweezers from Heacham (Norfolk), the jet disc from Whitby (North Yorkshire) and the wooden spoon from York.

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