Skip to comments.Kensington Rune Stone
Posted on 01/09/2002 12:52:12 PM PST by crystalk
Kensington Rune Stone
This subject used to fascinate me when I was 9 or 11. I read everything the late Hjalmar Holand ever wrote. It has fascinated many others, unfortunately mainly professional Scandinavians who have made their lives out of their ethnicity, especially as professors of that language or culture. Most have used it only as a way to get a cheap Ph.D. thesis by demolishing it once again, or by using its possible validity to back up some ulterior theory or hobby-horse they may have. Few if any mainstream observers of American antiquities have been willing to touch it.
Found in 1898 at the latest by a middle-aged Swedish-American farmer in west-central Minnesota, the stones validity was scathingly, even cruelly denounced by upper-class Scandinavian philologists who hated everything about working-class Scandinavians-- the way they spoke, the fact they fled to America seeking equality, the fact they resented the poisonous class system then existing in what were then the poorest countries in Europe.
It wasnt written in the Queens Swedish. It wasnt grammatical, it was slangy, illiterate, betrayed signs of being rounded off by someone living among non-speakers of the language: a cheap hoax by a Swede with a chisel and a little familiarity with Runic characters and with English. From that day to this, all sides agree that this was either a rough-and-ready crude hoax by a laboring-class Swede whiling away a long Minnesota winter-- or genuine. The circumstances forbid an erudite, knowledgeable hoax.
Among the many self-interested intervenors are the children of a man who lived a few miles away, who would have been about 9 years old at the latest possible date of the stones finding. Nevertheless, they claimed in 1974 that their father had alleged before he died that he had had a hand in the fabled K-stone. I consider this utterly impossible, though he may have been among local teens who were not above harassing the aging Ohman in the WWI era. A host of affidavits from the 1898-1911 period attest to the circumstances of its finding, and these would come out on top in any court of law.
Best points in its favor:
1. It is dated 1362. I doubt there was a man alive in 1898 who knew that there was a royal expedition in America from 1355 to 1364, charged with finding the missing Western Settlement Greenlanders and Vinland colonists and returning them to Christianity and contact with the homeland. This was not even found in the archives until the WWI era. [The Paul Knutsson expedition ordered by King Magnus Erlandsson.]
2. It uses daghrise=days travel as a measure of distance, a medievalism. This was used even when difficult weather, sea conditions, OR LAND TERRAIN made the trip take much longer than that, or where excellent sailing conditions made progress much faster. This measured about 75 miles and represented average progress for a sailing vessel between dawn and dusk.
3. It says the expedition consisted of 22 Norrmen and 8 Goths. In other words, it would have been recruited from the most experienced seamen then in the combined Norway/Sweden kingdom--those living between Goteborg and Oslo and trading across the North Sea with Britain, Hamburg, Netherlands, etc.
4. No one up to the stones finding had ever suggested that Scandinavians might have been in the interior of North America before Columbus. Now, despite the lack of acceptance of the Stone, only the ignorant still deny that Norsemen had been all over the interior of North America, New Mexico, Colorado, most of Canada, even Oklahoma, for centuries and even millennia prior to 1362.
5. There was no attempt to use archaic or even grammatical language. The poor wanderers had been on this freezing expedition for 7 years already-- young, poorly educated men: its Swedish author living with Norse sailors who were equally poor and had been trading across Hanseatic Europe. Also, no known single set of Runic characters was used, not even the one in Ohmans Swedish dictionary! The writer mixes rune types and styles, as if remembering (or trying to) characters seen on tombstones back home. Several of the characters were completely unexampled for years or even generations after the Stone was found, though it could be told what letter they must represent, of course. Yet every one had been found in Europe by the 1ate 1960s, together with examples in Greenland suggesting that this set may have been used together or coherently by some there about that date.
Worst Points Against:
1. The 220-pound stone was found on an undistinguished knoll in the prairie-pothole region, far from any logical route that explorers would follow in trying to cross the continent. Worse still, it describes the place of its emplacement as this island, and no matter how wet Minnesota might have been that spring, I am not convinced that this word could describe any place within 50 to 100 miles of where the stone was found. Worse still, the wording is incomprehensible if the men were traveling on foot, overland. They would have needed a boat to get to any island, and just the day before they said they had been out fishing out of sight of their camp, again requiring a boat, and that 30 men had been in the boat, leaving only ten at camp. Even if the sense is stretched to the breaking point, at least ten men were in the boat just to fish, and twenty to forty had been in it when they arrived AT the fatal campsite.
2. It gives no evident codes or signature blocks, no names at all, not of their king, their captain, the engraver himself, nor of any of the ten dead men!
3. It says they are just exploring, virtually skylarking, on an opdagelsefard from VINLAND, round about the west. It is as if Vinland were their home, not Sweden or Norway. Yet: maybe they had been away from home for so long (7 years) that they thought of themselves as Americans: in just five years they could have been naturalized here.
4. It says they left ten other men with their ship by the sea 14 days-journey (north) from this island. with the strong implication that they were, and had been, headed virtually due south all this while, especially of late. Could ten men really operate the (ocean-going) ship, in case the land party never returned? --And this would mean that the sea is Hudsons Bay, and the route is south along the Nelson River and then the whole length of Canadas Lake Winnepeg waterways. Fine: doubt the dumb Swede hoaxer would have thought of that. Not so fine: no way to cover this in 14 days, so we need faith that this is just a way of expressing a distance, ie some 1050 miles. Oddly, that would be about correct. Surely they would have to be traveling in the pinnace, a good-sized wooden boat complete with sail. That could speed things up, but how could they have got it further south than Winnepeg? Surely even thirty men couldnt have carried it more than a few hundred yards, virtually unportageable. Certainly not 350 miles south from Winnepeg. Claims that it might have floated in the Red River dont much impress me, and the Kensington site is some 60 miles away even from that.
Decision: 1. It says that just two nights before, they had camped by two skerries one days journey north of this island. A skerry is a rocky islet, just a few yards in diameter, too small to camp on or live on. The writer is clearly traveling along some fixed or obvious shore of a body of water, going due south without much error E/W, and thinks the reader could find the site of the massacre without much trouble. The fatal camp would have been on the mainland with both skerries in view. If the travel was along a major river such as the Missouri or Mississippi, skerries rather than mud islands are unlikely...and those waters could only have been entered by impossible portages anyway.
2. Therefore: To accept the stone requires that it has been moved some hundreds of miles south from its original emplacement as a monument, almost certainly overland from a fairly sizable island in the big Manitoba lakes, probably Lake Winnepeg. Indians might have done this if they viewed it as a tribal totem or power object from their old home, taken with them when they headed south--then left behind when they themselves met disaster or it just became too heavy to continue. They would have had to lug it-- no canoe of theirs would have been much help. Alternatively, a white explorer such as the Frenchman--la Verendrye in the 1760s, might have found it and lugged it this far in his famous winter sortie into the prairies. He says he found such a stone, but his journal seems to imply that he got back to Montreal with it. Might he have found more than one, and decided to just copy off this one since it was so heavy? ...But his description makes it appear that he found it along the Missouri in North Dakota. The Kensington site might be where he gave up and abandoned it, but that is not in their log, nor would any of this explain how the original writers got into the Missouri from the northern sea.
3. Claims that the sea might be Lake Superior run into two problems. First, it is not salt, and Swedens large Vannern Lake would have been familiar to them. Second, it would not be possible to get a large, built-in-Europe wooden ship into Lake Superior, certainly not up Niagara Falls and I dont think from Hudsons Bay either. A third is the required portage then to get them OUT of that system and out to where the stone was found, unless we could think the stone was originally placed on ITS shores, which again is nonsensical grammatically, and absurd anyway.
Therefore, my judgment is that the Lake Winnepeg route should be examined along with reports of earlier explorers and surveyors along that route, to see if there is any mound, tumulus, or barrow especially on an island reasonably encounterable along the lakes (presumably) east shore, especially if some 75 miles south of a pair of self-evident skerries along the same shore. Find contemporary Scandinavian artifacts or evidence, and the Stone could move to validity overnight.
PS. The thing that seemed most to drive the Ph.D. philologists mad, make them apoplectic, was the alleged presence of three English words on the Stone, to wit: a. rise, in the compounds daghrise and its derivatives. But this word means a trip or journey, same as H.G. reise, and does not seem English except that there is an English word of that spelling, but of unrelated meaning;
b. the use on the stone of mans as the plural of man, after a numeral. But this is not good English, either, and the carver could have saved a letter of hard chiseling by writing men, then, which would have been correct. More likely he was trying to avoid writing manner or the like on the stone, and such a plural as mans has been documented now for the 1362 era in Hanseatic trade records and some Swedish dialects as well.
c. the use of ded in found ten of our men red with blood and DED. Like the other two, this is not good English either, and has been found in letters of Swedish princesses of the day and others who ought to know better. An Icelandic idiom of the day used the term ded to mean hacked to death, bloodily tortured to death.
...The PhDs seem to have supposed some such Anglo/Scandian patois or dialect to have been in use on the farm in Minnesota, but such just did not happen. For example, Ohman spoke good Swedish, was fairly well-educated for the time and place, and also could speak and write English well and grammatically as Holand went to such trouble to document in business letters from the farmer, etc. His son, aged ten and present when the Stone was found, spoke only English and deposed that his father spoke that language to him and at home in all usual cases, and more correctly than most of their neighbors and friends. Not one of the philologues, it seems, ever troubled himself to learn that no such mix was ever used in Minnesota, but it WAS used in North Sea ports and aboard trading ships on such waters in the fourteenth century.
In the last 20 or 25 years, it has been finally suggested by philologists that the entire Stone is just written in the Bohuslan dialect of coastal border area Norway/Sweden anyway.
At a recent conference speakers argued that the Stone is written in the dialect of Gotland, a large Swedish island in the Baltic, and this would explain the otherwise archaic use of the term Goths, which if it meant Swedes rather than inhabitants of Gotland, seems a few centuries out of date. The other news was that local museum staff at Alexandria, Minn., who have the Stone in their possession, excavated down to 36 at the stated site of the Stones finding, and found numerous flakes and pieces chipped off the stone, which was not of locally occurring rock at all, at a depth of 23 inches below the present surface of the ground, scientifically just right for 1362 according to testimony presented! Curiouser and curiouser, Alice! Lugged a likely-looking raw tombstone to a remote prairie site, and then worked on it out there, calling the place an island and then referring to an Indian massacre somewhere ELSE? Go figure, as they say.
Is the author being serious?
Ya, ya. Not bad, for a "dumb swede." Still wondering, over 100 years later. Not bad, he..he. Nils and Anders.
My interest began when I visited the Heavener stone while on a trip as a teenager. Back in those days (mid 70's) you could go right up and touch the stone in person. Now, so I'm told, it's encased in some sort of glass contraption which prevents close analysis by the general public. :(
What is not mentioned here is that there was at least one more similar stone found in the hills adjacent to the Arkansas River, in the Tulsa vicinity. Tulsa is about 150 miles to the north of Heavener. The location of these stones, according to the newspaper article I read at the time (ca. 1980) was kept secret to prevent vandals from damaging them. Apparently they're too big to move easily.
The thought is that these same Viking explorers were traveling up the Arkansas sometime around 800 A.D.
I also believe that the Europeans, us mainly, hit the beach a long time ago, well before Columbus. The similarity between Clovis points and European points are to close to argue.
These guys loved their boats and were excellent seamen. None of this is far-fetched.