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Campfire stories and oral tales were part of the human experience long before the dawn of written history. We can only speculate the nature of the very first stories. They weren’t written down and have thus been lost to time. Perhaps the oldest examples of stories are the rock and cave paintings found across the world from Sulawesi in Indonesia to southern France. Archaeologists still debate the true meaning of these images, and we can only guess at their artists’ original intent. Still, they give us an insight into scenes and micro-narratives of their daily lives. These paintings depict moments such as hunting and relaxation, giving us a window into the everyday world of Stone Age humanity.

Oral storytelling has existed for millennia in many forms, ranging from chants and songs to epic poems. Some stories would survive and go on to become classics that still told today. Norse epics like the Prose Edda were passed down this way until they were transcribed in the Middle Ages. One quirk of passing stories on by word of mouth is that they tend to change and transform over time. A tale will often continue to change until it is transcribed, such as the numerous Scottish Border Ballads.

In regions inhabited by the Norse, such as Scandinavia, Iceland, and the Faroes Islands, Oral storytelling was a major part of their culture. These stories, or sagas, would tell anything from mythological adventures of great heroes to people’s everyday lives. They included the aforementioned Prose Edda and bonded generations together, keeping their ancestors’ stories alive (with perhaps the odd embellishment here and there).

Artist: Dayanna Knight

A grandfather talking to his grandchild on shetland

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Credit: Dayanna Knight and Open Past

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