The Kensington Runestone is a slab of Graywacke stone, grey in color, measuring 36
inches long, 16 inches wide, and 6 inches thick. It contains runic writing along
the face of the stone and along one edge. The stone was found on the property of
a Minnesota farmer named Olaf Ohman in November of 1898. Upon finding the stone,
Mr. Ohman and his sons noted the runic letters, but could not decipher them. The
stone was thereafter examined by many runic scholars, who discovered that the runes
claimed to be an account of Norse explorers in the 14th Century. Many scholars who
have since examined the stone have claimed it a childish forgery, while others have
testified to its authenticity.
The inscription is in two parts. The portion on the face of the stone says: "Eight
Goths and 22 Norwegians on a journey of exploration from Vinland very far west. We
had camp by 2 rocky islands one day's journey north from this stone. We were out
fishing one day. After we came home we found 10 men red with blood and dead. AVM
save from evil." The portion along the edge of the stone says: "Have 10 men by the
sea to look after our ships 14 days' journey from this island. Year 1362."
The inscription, if genuine, would be one of the longest ancient runic inscriptions
in the world. It is certainly one of the most controversial.
On November 8, 1898, a farmer named Olaf Ohman, several of his sons, and some men
from neighboring farms were clearing lumber and pulling stumps in preparation for
plowing. Ohman was having considerable difficulty digging one tree, a poplar estimated
to be between 10 and 40 years old, which was on the southern slope of a 50-foot knoll
between his farm and that of Nils Flaaten, Ohman's closest neighbor. When the tree
was finally uprooted, the cause of Ohman's trouble came into view: entwined in the
roots of the aspen was a 200 pound slab of graywacke, the Kensington Runestone. The
roots of the tree, especially the largest root, were flattened by contact with the
stone, as was noted by several people who were there and by later visitors to the
site. The stone was found face down in the soil, about six inches below ground level.
The history of the stone since Ohman found it has been an interesting one. After
the initial discovery of the stone, it was sent to the University of Minnesota for
scholars to examine. The stone made its way to Chicago, where several Swedish, Danish,
and Norwegian scholars declared it a fraud of recent date. The stone was then returned
to Mr. Ohman, who put it to use as a doorstep for his granary.
In 1907, a young scholar named Hjalmar R. Holand purchased the stone from Mr. Ohman
and began to promote it, giving speeches and writing books about the stone, Viking
settlements in America, and the "Holy Mission" of Paul Knutson, which supposedly
left the stone behind. For most of 1948 the stone was on exhibit at the Smithsonian
Institution, where the Curator and Director publicly praised it as "probably the
most important archeological object yet found in North America." The stone was returned
to Minnesota in March of 1949 to be unveiled in St. Paul in honor of the state's
centennial. In August it came to a permanent home in Alexandria, Minnesota, at the
Runestone Museum, where it resides to this day.
What was the "Holy Mission"? According to Holand, a Swede named Paul Knutson was
sent in 1354 by King Magnus Ericcson of Sweden and Norway to discover why settlements
in Greenland were disappearing, and to bring some pagans into the Catholic fold.
[See "The Disappearance of Greenland's Vikings"]
Arriving in Greenland, Knutson found nothing but a few cattle, no settlement was
in sight. Again, according to Holand, the mission then continued west to Vinland,
and west from Vinland, entering Hudson Bay and traveling up the Nelson River and
the Red River (into Minnesota), then the Buffalo River to establish a camp at Lake
Cormorant. The party was attacked by pagan Vikings (rather than the usually-blamed
Indians) at that site. The remnants of the party then fled south and carved the runestone
on the "island" where it was discovered by Farmer Ohman. Knutson himself never returned,
although 7 men (including navigator Nicholas of Lynn) are claimed to have made it
back to Europe.
Are there other runestones in America? There are many claims of other runestones,
along with assorted relics and "mooring holes" found in areas of Minnesota, Iowa,
and South Dakota, lending evidence to the idea that there were significant Norse
incursions into the continent. The relics include halberds, battle axes, spears,
and boat hooks. Many of the relics have been claimed by critics to be modern items
mistaken for ancient relics, although some (like the "Beardmore Relics") are known
to be ancient, but are claimed to have been planted in order to fool the gullible.
The mooring holes are a different story, however. Mooring holes are holes in large
boulders into which the Vikings dropped a peg, attached to the ship, to "anchor"
it to the shore. Friedrich claims that more than 200 such holes have been found,
from South Dakota to Michigan, and that they show that there was a significant Viking
presence in North America from about 1000 to 1400. Critics argue that the holes were
drilled by modern folk for blasting, but Friedrich argues, who would go to the trouble
of drilling a blasting hole and then fail to blast it? Also, drilled holes are round
with "V" shaped bottoms, while the mooring holes are rounded triangles with "U" shaped
On the subject of rune stones, there is one which is worth mentioning: the "Heavener
Runestone" of Oklahoma. The Heavener Runestone is a slab about 12 feet high, 10 feet
wide, and 16 inches thick with runic letters spelling out the word "Gaomedat." By
reversing two runes which appear to be different from the others, the inscription
becomes "Glomedal," or "Glome's Valley". It could also be rendered "G. Nomedal,"
Nomedal being a Norwegian family name.
Several smaller runestones are claimed to have been found (Poteau, Shawnee, Tulsa,
all found in the area of Heavener, Oklahoma), although none so famous (or controversial)
as the Kensington or Heavener stones.