The Full Wiki

Kensington Runestone: Map


Wikipedia article:

Map showing all locations mentioned on Wikipedia article:

The Kensington Runestone is a 200-pound slab of greywacke covered in runes on its face and side which, if it is genuine, would suggest that Scandinavian explorers reached the middle of North America in the 14th century. It was found in 1898 in the largely rural township of Solemmarker, Douglas Countymarker, Minnesotamarker, and named after the nearest settlement, Kensingtonmarker. Runologists and linguists consider the runestone to be a hoax. The runestone has been analysed and dismissed repeatedly without local effect. The community of Kensington is solidly behind the runestone, which has transcended its original cultural purposes and has "taken on a life of its own".


Swedish American farmer Olof Öhman said he found the stone late in 1898 while clearing his land of trees and stumps before plowing, having recently taken over an 80-acre parcel that had for years been left unallocated as "Internal Improvement Land". The stone was said to be near the crest of a small knoll rising above the wetlands, lying face down and tangled in the root system of a stunted poplar tree, estimated to be from less than 10 to about 40 years old. The artifact is about 30 x 16 x 6 inches (76 x 41 x 15 cm) in size and weighs about 200 pounds (90 kg). Öhman's ten-year-old son noticed some markings and the farmer later said he thought they had found an "Indian almanac."

Unfortunately for provenance purposes, only family were said to be witnesses to grubbing the tree and finding the stone in its roots, although people who later saw the cut roots said that some were flattened, consistent with having held a stone. Also, there are many different versions describing when the stone was found (August or November, right after lunch or near the end of work for the evening), who discovered the stone (Öhman and his son; Öhman, his son and two workmen; Öhman, his son, and his neighbor Nils Flaten), when the stone was taken to the nearby town of Kensington, and who made the first inscriptions that were sent to a regional Scandinavian language newspaper.

When Öhman discovered the stone, the journey of Leif Ericson to Vinland (North America) was being widely discussed and there was renewed interest in the Vikings throughout Scandinavia, stirred by the National Romanticism movement. Five years earlier a Danishmarker archaeologist had proved it was possible to travel to North America in medieval ships. There was also friction between Swedenmarker and Norwaymarker (which ultimately led to Norway's independence from Sweden in 1905). Some Norwegians claimed the stone was a Swedish hoax and there were similar Swedish accusations because the stone references a joint expedition of Norwegians and Swedes at a time when they were both ruled by the same king. In Minnesota, Scandinavians were newcomers, still struggling for acceptance; the runestone took root in a community that was proud of its Scandinavian heritage.

Soon after it was found, the stone was displayed at a local bank. There is no evidence Öhman tried to make money from his find. An error-ridden copy of the inscription made its way to the Greek language department at the University of Minnesotamarker, then to Olaus J. Breda, a professor of Scandinavian languages and literature there from 1884 to 1899, who showed little interest in the find. His runic knowledge was later questioned by some researchers. Breda made a translation, declared it to be a forgery and forwarded copies to linguists in Scandinavia. Norwegian archaeologist Oluf Rygh also concluded the stone was a fraud, as did several other linguists.

The stone was then sent to Northwestern Universitymarker in Evanston, Illinoismarker. With scholars either dismissing it as a prank or unable to identify a sustainable historical context, it was returned to Öhman, who is said to have placed it face down near the door of his granary as a "stepping stone" which he also used for straightening out nails. Years later, his son said this was an "untruth" and that they had it set up in an adjacent shed, but he appears to have been referring only to the way the stone was treated before it started to attract interest at the end of 1898.

In 1907 the stone was purchased, reportedly for ten dollars, by Hjalmar Holand, a former graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Madisonmarker. Holand renewed public interest with an article enthusiastically summarizing studies that were made by geologist Newton Horace Winchell (Minnesota Historical Society) and linguist George T. Flom (Philological Society of the University of Illinoismarker), who both published opinions in 1910.

According to Winchell, the tree under which the stone was allegedly found had been destroyed before 1910, but several nearby poplars that witnesses estimated as being about the same size were cut down, and by counting their rings it was determined they were indeed around 30–40 years old (NB: letters were written to members of a team which had excavated at the find site in 1899, and their estimates from memory, without any reference to tree rings, ranged as low as 10–12 years in the case of county schools superintendent Cleve Van Dyke). The surrounding county had not been settled until 1858, and settlement was severely restricted for a time by the Dakota War of 1862 (although it was reported that the best land in the township adjacent to Solem, Holmes City, was already taken by 1867, by a mixture of Swedish, Norwegian and "Yankee" settlers).

Winchell also concluded that the weathering of the stone indicated the inscription was roughly 500 years old. Meanwhile, Flom found a strong apparent divergence between the runes used in the Kensington inscription and those in use during the 14th century. Similarly, the language of the inscription was modern compared to the Nordic languages of the 14th century.

Most discussions over the Kensington Runestone's authenticity have been based on an apparent conflict between the linguistic and physical evidence. The Runestone's discovery by a Swedish farmer in Minnesota at a time when Viking history and Scandinavian culture were popular and sometimes controversial topics has caused skepticism of its provenance to linger for more than a hundred years.

The Kensington Runestone is currently on display at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Possible historical background

Sigillum ad causas for Magnus II of Sweden
In 1577, cartographer Gerardus Mercator wrote a letter containing the only detailed description of the contents of a geographical text about the Arctic region of the Atlanticmarker, possibly written over two centuries earlier by one Jacob Cnoyen. Cnoyen had learned that in 1364, eight men had returned to Norway from the Arctic islands, one of whom, a priest, provided the King of Norway with a great deal of geographical information. Books by scholars such as Carl Christian Rafn early in the 19th century revealed hints of reality behind this tale. A priest named Ivar Bardarsson, who had previously been based in Greenlandmarker, did turn up in Norwegian records from 1364 onward and copies of his geographical description of Greenlandmarker still survive. Furthermore, in 1354, King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden and Norway had issued a letter appointing a law officer named Paul Knutsson as leader of an expedition to the colony of Greenlandmarker, to investigate reports that the population was turning away from Christian culture. Another of the documents reprinted by the 19th century scholars was a scholarly attempt by Icelandic Bishop Gisli Oddsson, in 1637, to compile a history of the Arctic colonies. He dated the Greenlanders' fall away from Christianity to 1342, and claimed that they had turned instead to America. Supporters of a 14th century origin for the Kensington runestone argue that Knutson may therefore have travelled beyond Greenland to North America, in search of renegade Greenlanders, most of his expedition being killed in Minnesota and leaving just the eight voyagers to return to Norway.

However, there is no evidence that the Knutson expedition ever set sail (the government of Norway went through considerable turmoil in 1355) and the information from Cnoyen as relayed by Mercator states specifically that the eight men who came to Norway in 1364 were not survivors of a recent expedition, but descended from the colonists who had settled the distant lands, generations earlier. Also, those early 19th century books, which aroused a great deal of interest among Scandinavian Americans would have been available to a late 19th century hoaxer.

In The Kensington Runestone: Approaching a Research Question Holistically (2005) archeologist Alice Beck Kehoe alluded to reports of contact between native American populations and outsiders prior to the time of the runestone. These include historical references to the "blond" Indians among the Mandan on the Upper Missouri River, signs of a tuberculosis epidemic among American Indians about 1000 A.D. and the Hochunk (Winnebago) story about an ancestral hero "Red Horn" and his encounter with "red-haired giants."


Kensington in Minnesota.
A natural north-south navigation route—admittedly with a number of portages round dangerous rapids—extends from Hudson Baymarker up Nelson Rivermarker (or the Hayes River, as preferred by early modern traders from York Factorymarker) through Lake Winnipegmarker, then up the Red River of the Northmarker. The northern waterway begins at Traverse Gapmarker, on the other side of which is the source of the Minnesota River, flowing to join the great Mississippi River at Minneapolismarker. One of the early Runestone debunkers, George Flom, found that explorers and traders had come from Hudson Bay to Minnesota by this route decades before the area was officially settled, but supporters of the stone's authenticity argued that the 1362 party could have used the same waterway.

Other artifacts?

This waterway also contains alleged signs of Viking presence. At Cormorant Lake in Becker County, Minnesotamarker, there are three boulders with triangular holes which are claimed to be similar to those used for mooring boats along the coast of Norway during the 14th century. Holand found other triangular holes in rocks near where the stone was found; however, experimental archaeology later suggested that holes dug in stone with chisels rather than drills tend to have a triangular cross-section, whatever their purpose. A little further north, by the Red River itself, at Climax, Minnesota, a firesteel found in 1871, buried quite deep in soft ground, matched specimens of medieval Norse firesteels at the Oslo University museum in Norway.

There has also been considerable discussion of what has recently been named the Vérendrye Runestone, a small plaque allegedly found by one of the earliest expeditions along what later became the U.S./Canada border, in the 1730s. "Allegedly", because it is not referred to in the journal of the expedition, or indeed any first-hand source; only in a summary of a conversation about the expedition a decade after it took place.

No non-Native American artifacts dating from before 1492 have been recovered under controlled, professionally conducted archaeological investigations at any great distance from the east coast of the continent; and with current techniques, the dating of any holes cut into rocks in the region is as uncertain as the dating of the Kensington stone itself.


Holand took the stone to Europe and, while newspapers in Minnesota carried articles hotly debating its authenticity, the stone was quickly dismissed by Swedish linguists.

For the next 40 years, Holand struggled to sway public and scholarly opinion about the Runestone, writing articles and several books. He achieved brief success in 1949, when the stone was put on display at the Smithsonian Institutionmarker, and scholars such as William Thalbitzer and S. N. Hagen published papers supporting its authenticity. However, at nearly the same time, Scandinavian linguists Sven Jansson, Erik Moltke, Harry Anderson and K. M. Nielsen, along with a popular book by Erik Wahlgren again questioned the Runestone's authenticity.

Along with Wahlgren, historian Theodore C. Blegen flatly asserted Öhman had carved the artifact as a prank, possibly with help from others in the Kensington area. Further resolution seemed to come with the 1976 published transcript of an audio tape made by Walter Gran several years earlier. In it, Gran said his father John confessed in 1927 that Öhman made the inscription. John Gran's story however was based on second-hand anecdotes he had heard about Öhman, and although it was presented as a dying declaration, Gran lived for several years afterwards saying nothing more about the stone. In 2005 supporters of the runestone's authenticity attempted to explain this with claims that Gran was motivated by jealousy over the attention Öhman had received.

The possibility of a Scandinavian provenance for the Runestone was renewed in 1982 when Robert Hall, an emeritus Professor of Italian Language and Literature at Cornell Universitymarker published a book (and a follow up in 1994) questioning the methodology of its critics. He asserted that the odd philological problems in the Runestone could be the result of normal dialectic variances in Old Swedish during the purported carving of the Runestone. Further, he contended that critics had failed to consider the physical evidence, which he found leaning heavily in favour of authenticity. Meanwhile in The Vikings and America (1986) former UCLAmarker professor Erik Wahlgren wrote that the text bore linguistic abnormalities and spellings that suggested the Runestone was a forgery.

Richard Nielsen

In 1983, inspired by Hall, Richard Nielsen, a trained engineer and amateur language researcher from Houstonmarker, Texasmarker, studied the Kensington Runestone's runology and linguistics, disputing several earlier claims of forgery. For example, the rune which had been interpreted as standing for the letter J (and according to critics, invented by the forger) could be interpreted as a rare form of the L rune found only in a few 14th century manuscripts.

In 2001, Nielsen published an article on the Scandinavian Studies website refuting claims the runes were Dalecarlian (a more modern form). He asserted that while some runes on the Kensington Runestone are similar to Dalecarlian runes, over half have no such connection, and are best explained by 14th-century usage. As indicated by the later discovery of the Larsson rune rows (see below) he was half right.

Text (Nielsen interpretation)

With one slight variation from the Larsson rune rows, using the letter þ (representing "th" as in "think" or "this") instead of d, the inscription on the face (from which a few words may be missing due to spalling, particularly at the lower left corner where the surface is calcite rather than greywacke) reads:

Translation: Unlike the version in the infobox above, this is based on Richard Nielsen's 2001 translation of the text, which attempts specifically to put it into a medieval context, giving variant readings of some words:

8 Geats and 22 Norwegians on ?? acquisition expedition from Vinland far west.
We had traps by 2 shelters one day's travel to the north from this stone.
We were fishing one day.
After we came home, found 10 men red with blood and dead.
AVM (Ave Maria) Deliver from evils.

The lateral (or side) text reads:

(I) have 10 men at the inland sea to look after our ship 14 days travel from this wealth/property.
Year [of our Lord] 1362

When the original text is transcribed to the Latin script, the message becomes quite easy to read for any modern Scandinavian. This fact is one of the main arguments against the authenticity of the stone. The language of the inscription bears much closer resemblance to 19th century than 14th century Swedish.

The AVM is historically consistent since any Scandinavian explorers would have been Catholic at that time. Earlier transliterations interpreted skelar as skjar, meaning skerries (small, rocky islands) but Nielsen's research suggested this meaning was unlikely, and the Larsson rune rows confirm his claim.

Opthagelsefarth: Nielsen and others

As an example of how linguistic research affects the discussion of this text, no evidence has been found of the Swedish term opthagelse farth (journey of discovery), or updagelsfard as it often appears, in Old Swedish, Danish or Norwegian, nor in Middle Dutch or Middle Low German during the 14th or 15th centuries.

In the contemporary and modern Scandinavian languages the term is called opdagelsesrejse in Danish, oppdagingsferd in Norwegian and upptäcktsfärd in Swedish. It is considered a fact that the modern word is a loan-translation from Low German *updagen, Dutch opdagen and German aufdecken, which are in turn loan-translations of French découvrir.

In a conversation with Holand in 1911, the lexicographer of the Old Swedish Dictionary (Soderwall) noted that his work was limited mostly to surviving legal documents written in formal and stilted language and that the root word opdage must have been a borrowed Germanic term (i.e. from Low German, Dutch or High German). Also, the -else ending characterizes a class of words that the Scandinavians borrowed from their southern neighbors.

However, before the Scandinavians could have borrowed the term from the Germanic languages, the Germanic peoples had to have first borrowed it from the French language, which did not happen before the 16th century. Linguists who, due to this and similar facts, reject the Medieval origin of the Kensington inscription, consider this word to be a neologism and have noted that, in a Norwegian newspaper circulated in Minnesota, the late 19th century Norwegian historian Gustav Storm often used this term in articles on Viking exploration.

Nielsen suggests that the Þ (transliterated above as th or d) could also be a t sound, which would mean the word could be the 14th century expression uptagelsfart (acquisition expedition). However, in the rest of the text, the Thorn rune regularly corresponds to modern Scandinavian d-sounds and only occasionally to historical th-sounds, while the T-rune is used for all other t-sounds.

More linguistic problems

Another characteristic pointed out by skeptics is the text's lack of cases. Old Norse had the four cases of modern German. They had disappeared from common speech by the 16th century but were still predominant in the 14th century (see Swedish language). Also, the text does not use the plural verb forms that were common in the 14th century and have only recently disappeared: for example, (plural forms in parenthesis) "wi war" (wörum), "hathe" (höfuðum), "[wi] fiske" (fiskaðum), "kom" (komum), "fann" (funnum) and "wi hathe" (hafdum). Proponents of the stone's authenticity point to sporadic examples of these simpler forms in some 14th century texts and to the great changes of the morphological system of the Scandinavian languages that began during the latter part of that century.

The inscription also contains "pentadic" numerals. Such numerals are known in Scandinavia, but nearly always from relatively recent times, not from verified medieval runic monuments, on which numbers were usually spelled out as words. For example, to write EINN (one) the runes E-I-N-N were used and indeed the word EN (one) is in the Kensington inscription. Writing all the numbers out (such as thirteen hundred and sixty-two) would not have easily fit the surface space, so the stone's author (whether a forger or 14th-century explorer) simplified things by using pentadic runes as numerals in the Indo-Arabic positional numbering system. This system had been described in an early 14th century Icelandic book called Hauksbók, known to have been taken to Norway by its compiler Haukr Erlendsson. However, the few pages of Hauksbók, called Algorismus, that describe the Indo-Arabic numerals and how to use them in calculations, were not widely known at the time, and the Indo-Arabic number system did not become widespread in Scandinavia until centuries later.

AVM: A Medieval Abbreviation?

In 2004, Keith Massey and Kevin Massey published their theory that the Latin letters on the Kensington Stone, AVM, contain evidence authenticating a medieval date for the artifact. The Kensington Stone critic Erik Wahlgren had noticed that the carver had incised a notch on the upper right hand corner of the letter V. The Massey Twins note that a mark in that position is consistent with an abbreviation technique used in the 14th century. To render the word "Ave" in that period, the final vowel would have been written as a superscript. Eventually, the superscript vowel was replaced by a mere superscript dot. The existence of a notch where Wahlgren notes, then, shows that the carver was familiar with 14th century abbreviation techniques. The Massey Twins, however, point out that knowledge of these conventions was not available to the purported forger in late 19th century Minnesota, as books documenting these techniques were being printed in Italian academic circles only a few years after Öhman discovered the stone.

Rune statistics

The Kensington inscription consists of 30 different runic characters. Of these, 19 belong to the normal futhark series, q.e. a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, th, and v. Then there are three special umlauted runes, that are marked by two dots above them. These represent the letters u, ä and ö. There is also a bind rune that seems to represent the combination EL. Finally, there are seven others that represent the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10. These results are obtained by counting how many times each rune recurs on the stone. Since the included photographs of the stone are quite sharp, the reader can easily verify this. Furthermore, it is also quite easy to see what Latin letter each rune represents, since most of the words are readily recognized as modern Swedish words. The result of such analysis also agrees nicely with the runic alphabets recorded by Edward Larsson in 1885.

Edward Larsson's notes

Edward Larsson's notes (1885)
Edward Larsson's runic alphabets from 1885
Many runes in the inscription deviate from known medieval runes, but in 2004 it was discovered that these appear along with pentadic runes in the 1883 notes of a 16-year-old journeyman tailor with an interest in folk music, Edward Larsson. A copy was published by the Institute for Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research in Umeåmarker, Swedenmarker and while an accompanying article suggested the runes were a secret cipher used by the tailors guild, no usage of futharks by any 19th-century guild has been documented. However, given that the Larsson notes are the only firm evidence for 19th century knowledge of these futharks, it does appear that a secret has been kept with considerable success. The notes also include the Pigpen cipher, devised by the Freemasons, and it may not be coincidental that the abbreviation AVM seen in Latin letters on the Kensington stone also appears (for AUM) on many Masonic gravestones; Wolter and Nielsen in their 2005 book even suggested a connection with the Knights Templar.

Larsson's notes disprove the early theory that the unusual runes on the Kensington Runestone were invented on the spot by the supposed 1890s hoaxer; but without a source for Larsson's rune rows (for example an ancient book, or records from the hypothetical Masonic-type organisation), it is not possible to give their origin any particular date range closer than "before 1883." However, his second rune row includes runes for the letters Å, Ä and Ö, which were introduced into the Swedish version of the Latin alphabet in the 16th century. Although Nielsen has demonstrated that double-dotted runes were used in medieval inscriptions to indicate lengthened vowels, the presence of other letters from the second Larsson rune row on the Kensington stone suggests that the post-16th century versions were intended in this case.

The stone and the Larsson runes

Before Edward Larsson's sheet of runic alphabets surfaced in Sweden in 2004, when the stone was exhibited there, it seemed as if the Kensington runes were gathered from many different futharks, or in a few cases invented by the carver. Larsson's sheet lists two different Futharks. The first Futhark consists of 22 runes, the last two of which are bind-runes, representing the letter-combinations EL and MW. His second Futhark consists of 27 runes, where the last 3 are specially adapted to represent the letters å, ä, and ö of the modern Swedish alphabet.

Comparing the Kensington Futhark with Larsson's two it becomes clear that the Kensington runes are a selective combination of Larsson's two Futharks, with some very minor variations such as mirror-imaging. On the stone the runes representing e, g, n, and i have been taken from Larsson's first Futhark, and the runes representing the letters a, b, k, u, v, ä, and ö have been taken from Larsson's second Futhark. The dotted R runes identified on the Kensington Rune Stone by Scott Wolter (similar to runes found on 14th century memorial stones in churches on the island of Gotlandmarker off the coast of Sweden) are not found in the Larsson Papers.

Physical analysis

In July 2000, just over a hundred years after the Kensington Rune Stone had been found, a detailed physical analysis was made for the first time since Winchell's report in 1910. This included photography with a reflected light microscope, core sampling and examination with a scanning electron microscope.

In November 2000, geologist Scott F. Wolter presented preliminary findings suggesting the stone had undergone an in-the-ground weathering process that should have taken a minimum of 50–200 years in natural conditions; specifically, he found a complete breakdown of mica crystals on the inscribed surface of the stone. In 2003, Wolter collected samples from slate gravestones in Mainemarker that showed biotite mica beginning to mechanically come off the surfaces after 197 (plus or minus 5) years, but not the complete breakdown seen on the rune stone. What the comparison cannot tell is what conditions the rune stone endured after it was carved—for example, how long the inscription was exposed to the air before ending up face-down.

Some critics have noted the surviving sharpness of the chisel work, asking how this could have endured centuries of freeze-thaw cycles and seepage. However, the back of the stone has crisply preserved glacial scratches that are thousands of years old. Other observers contend the runes have weathered consistently with the rest of the stone.


The consensus among runologists and linguists (such as R. I. Page and James Knirk) is that the runestone is a hoax, while many enthusiasts claim scientific evidence points to its authenticity.

The Kensington Runestone could be a 19th century forgery or an important archaeological find from the 14th century. Those who ascribe a Scandinavian origin to the stone claim it shows evidence of obscure medieval runes and intersecting word forms that would have been unknown to potential forgers in the 1800s. These advocates tend to be enthusiastic but often lacking in relevant professional credentials (for instance, Viking-origin proponent Keith Massey's Ph.D. is in Hebrew and Semitic Studies). Interested professional archaeologists, historians, and Scandinavian linguists generally question the stone's provenance. Any discussion of the runestone is fraught with opportunities for misinterpretation and speculation.

The amateur linguist Nielsen claims the stone's linguistics are plausible for the 14th century, claiming evidence for all the unusual word and rune forms has been found in medieval sources. He believes that spoken Swedish was already quite similar to modern Swedish in the 14th century, But his only evidence for this is the Kensington Stone. The many other [written] sources of Medieval Swedish show a language that differs in significant ways from its modern descendant. Geochemical analysis suggests the stone was buried prior to the first documented arrival of Europeans in the region.

In a joint statement for a 2004 exhibition of the stone at the Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm, Nielsen and Henrik Williams (a professor of Scandinavian Languages atUppsala Universitymarker and a proponent of the forgery theory) noted there were linguistic discrepancies for both 14th and 19th century origins of the inscription and that the runestone "requires further study before a secure conclusion can be reached." This was a rare instance in which the academic community and runestone enthusiasts found something upon which they could agree.

The Beardmore Relics, genuine Viking ironwork planted by James Edward Dodd, in Beardmore, Ontariomarker during the 1930s, were intended to support similar claims, in that case of a Viking burial.



  • Wolter, Scott, The Hooked X: Key to the Secret History of North America, North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc., 2009. ISBN 0878393129; ISBN 978-0878393121.

External links

Embed code:

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address