Did the Vikings discover Minnesota?

In the November of the year 1898, a farmer by the name Olof Ohman who lived near the town of Kensington, Minnesota claimed to have discovered an inscribed stone tangled in the roots of a tree. The stone was an irregular rectangular slab of graywacke, about 31 inches by 16 inches, between 3 and 6 inches thick, with a runic inscription cut into one face and along one edge.

Olof Ohman placed the stone in the vault of the local bank in Kensington for the time being and it wasn't until the following year that the find was announced and the story made it to the newspapers. The stone was examined by a Professor O.J. Breda of the University of Minnesota, and then by another parade of academics at the University of Chicago who all agreed that the stone was a fraud. Olof Ohman regained posession of the stone and put it to good use as a doorstop in his granary.

The stone then came to the attention of a writer by the name of Hjalmar Rued Holand from Ephraim, Wisconsin. In 1907 he bought the stone from Olof Ohlman, and pronounced it genuine, an opinion confirmed by the 1915 the Minnesota Historical Society. Holand was to expand on his ideas in his self-published Westward From Vineland (1940) and later in his Explorations in America Before Columbus (Twayne Publishers, 1956).

Knowing that King Magnus II of Sweden had sent an expedition to Greenland in 1355 to re-establish contact with the Viking colonies there and that this expedition had never returned, Holand promoted the theory was that this expedition was lead by a Paul Knutson and reached Greenland, found the colonies abandonded and then went west in search of survivors, travelled through the Hudson Bay across Lake Winnipeg and then up the Red River until they got to Minnesota. It was his belief that the stone was therefore a remnant of this Knutson expedition and tirelessly campaigned to prove that the stone showed that the Vikings had made it as far as Minnesota.

Many people were convinced, including the Smithsonian Institution which had the stone on display in 1948 and whose curator announced that it was "probably the most important archeological object yet found in North America".

What does the stone say?

The transcribed runes read as;

8 : goter : ok : 22 : norrmen : po : opdagelsefard : fro : vinland : vest : vi : hade : lager : ved : 2 : skjar : en : dags : rise : norr : fro : deno : sten : vi : var : ok : fiske : en : dagh : aptir : vi : kom : hem : fan : 10 : man : rode : af : blod : og : ded : AVM : fraelse : af : illy : har 10 : mans : ve : havet : at : se : aptir : vore : skip : 14 : dagh : rise : from : deno : oh : ahr : 1362 :

The generally accepted translation of which reads as;

8 Swedes and 22 Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland westward. We had our camp by 2 rocky islets one day's journey north of this stone. We were out fishing one day. When we came home we found 10 men red with blood and dead. AVM save us from evil. We have 10 men by the sea to look after out ships, 14 days journey from this island. Year 1362.

Some translations however read 'Goths' rather than 'Swedes' and AVM is of course, Ave Maria the Catholic invocation to the Virgin Mary.

The lake with the rocky islets has been identified with Cormorant Lake in Becker County, Minnesota; the sea referred to is believed to be the Hudson Bay.

Is the Kensington Runestone genuine?

Whether the Kensington runestone is a genuine fourteenth century Viking arefact or a much later forgery is still a matter of academic debate and a source of controversy.

Many academics are highly suspicious given the circumstances surrounding the stone's discovery. Olof Ohman was unsurprisingly a Swedish immigrant as indeed were a large number of his fellow Minnesotans. Many have been struck by the coincidence of an allegedly fourteenth century Swedish Viking runestone being discovered by one of their nineteenth century descendants in precisely that area of the Americas with a significant Swedish population.

Olof Ohman himself had little formal education and although he owned a book that listed the standard Swedish runes, it was fairly basic and didn't include some of the specific (and obscure) runes featured on the stone. He never made any significant financial gains as a result of the discovery and seems an unlikely candidate for a master forger. Hence both pro and anti factions find material to promote their arguments.

Despite the promotional efforts of Hjalmar Rued Holand the consensus view was that the stone was a fraud. In 1951, Erik Moltke, who was the official Runologist of the Danish National Museum, at the time drew people's attention to a crossed L rune on the stone (which it was believed represented a Germanic j-sound), concluded that this J rune was simply invented and therefore conclusive proof that the stone was indeed a fraud.

It was also argued that the stone was a fraud on the grounds of the appearance of the word 'opdagelsefard' on the stone; whilst this means 'journey of discovery' in modern Swedish it wasn't in use until several centuries after the supposed date of inscription. Similarly the use of Arabic numerals was considered to be historically out of context with the Viking era.

This appears to have been the consensus view for many years.

More recently however some have come to believe that the stone might, after all be genuine. In 1987 one Richard Nielsen pointed out that the 'invented' J rune also appeared in the Codex Runicus, and was in fact an authentic if rarely used, 14th century nordic rune and argued that the very obscurity of the rune pointed to the genuineness of the stone. In October 2000, the stone was subjected to physical testing by American Petrographic Services who suggested that the runeforms had "spent a long time in the ground".

The controversy is still ongoing wth a great number of technical arguments regarding the specific runes incised on the stone and the language employed; as things stand at the moment, the stone may be genuine or it may not.

Genuine or not in March 1949 the stone was formally unveiled at the town of St. Paul in a ceremony held in honour of the state's centennial, before being given a permanent home at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.It has remained there ever since, but is not there at the moment as it is enroute to Sweden where it will be examined there by scholars.


North American Runestones http://www.sunnyway.com/runes/americanstones.html
The Runestone Museum at http://www.runestonemuseum.org/runestone.htm William P. Holmen The Story of the Kensington Runestone http://kensingtonmn.com/runestonepg.html
Kensington Runestone to be shown in Sweden Published October 2, 2003 http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/4130986.html
Timothy Mills Debunking The Kensington Stone Mystery http://www.uiowa.edu/~anthro/webcourse/lost/projects97/ken1.htm
Yuri Kuchinsky Why Kensington Runestone Is Authentic http://www.trends.net/~yuku/tran/tkrs.htm
Dr. Keith A.J. Massey and his twin brother Rev. Kevin Massey Is The Kensington Stone the Genuine Article?!" http://home.att.net/~phaistosdisk/ken.html
Scott Wolter and Sherry Veglahn Runestone Examined: Real or Hoax? www.amengtest.com/news/01winter/runestone.html

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