"If I don't believe in solipsism, who will?" - Al Batt

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Kensington Runestone

A continuation of a discussion over beer last night that triggered the previous posting:

The Kensington Runestone is an inscribed stone purportedly left by Vikings in northern Minnesota in 1362. I think is is possible the Viking were in North America in 1362. I think it's possible they came down the Red River from the Hudson Bay. I also think it's possible they  went to the trouble of chiseling a message on a flat stone.  I just don't think they did.

"Scholars who believe the Kensington Runestone is a 19th-century prank -- and not concrete evidence that Norsemen beat Columbus to America by 100-plus years -- say they have found the smoking gun to prove it.

The latest in the century-old controversy centered in Minnesota came in documents written in 1885 by an 18-year-old Swedish tailor named Edward Larsson. He sometimes wrote in runes -- an ancient Scandinavian language that differs from the English alphabet. But Larsson's runes were not the usual runes used over the centuries.
The scholars contend that parts of his documents seem to be written in a secret runic alphabet used by tradesmen in Sweden in the late 1800s, rather like codes that tramps have used over time to leave secret messages for one another.
Swedish linguists happened upon Larsson's documents recently and found that his writing corresponds to pieces of the Kensington Runestone inscription. They say that the journeymen's code did not exist in medieval times, when the Kensington Runestone is purported to have been carved."  continued


Anonymous said...

Please keep this under you hat. I carved that stone.


Margadant said...

This troubles me. From what I've heard, those old, off-the-boat Swede and Norwegian farmers didn't have a sense of humor, didn't have the time to screw around with anything that didn't make money, and wouldn't have known a "scholar" from Adam's off-ox.

Gunnar Berg said...

The more recent findings would eliminate the "scholar" part of the story, which had always troubled me in the past.

He had time. He was a bachelor.

Echelon 133 said...

I concurr with Margadant. Weren't the Scandahoovian's at that time carving up one of the largest forests in the world. Now know as Iowa, Minn, Ill, Mich, Etc.

Michael Zalar said...

Regarding the Larsson papers, there were two sheets of paper, one pretty much a copy of the other with rune rows dated to different years, both prior to the finding of the Kensington rune stone. Larsson did not write in runes.
To the best of my knowledge, there has been no attempt (such as handwriting analysis comparing other writings of Larsson at various stages of his life) to verify the dates on the papers.
There appear to be slight variations between the Larsson and Kensington runes, though the Larsson runes seem to fit better with early published illustrations of the Kensington runes.

The attempt to connect the Larsson runes with any sort of guild or secret writing is pure speculation. There was no evidence presented that guilds or other societies used runes of any sort for secret writings, and no usage of the Kensington/Larsson runes has been found in any other 19th century writings.
The Larsson runes show variations from the known runes of the time, but there is not enough variation that the odd runes would not be easily decipherable by someone with a book of runes. There is no reason to create 'odd' runes that are as easily readable as known runes.
The 'secret writing' speculation has no basis in fact whatsoever, and in my opinion is simply a means to try and draw attention away from the possibility that the Larsson runes were actually written after publication of the Kensington runes.

There is no indication that the Larsson papers are either a hoax of a fraud. They were never published during Larsson's lifetime, and there is no indication they were meant to be published. It may have been something that Larsson was contemplating doing and discarded (two inscribed forgeries have been made in an attempt to undercut the Kensington rune stone claims), it could have been a joke meant to fool friends, or simply a misdating of the papers.

If the papers go through any actual authentication process and found valid 19th century documents, then it could be considered good evidence against the Kensington stone's authenticity, but as it stands, the Larsson documents provide no "smoking gun".

Gunnar Berg said...

I am speechless, a rare thing for me. I really have no dog in this fight, and obviously you know waaay more about this than I do. Going back to the crux of all of this, are you maintaining that the Kensington stone is genuine? (Sorry about my initial mis-spelling) I guess I've alway assumed it was a hoax. Most of the pro-Kensington people seem to be letting emotion drive their science. Tell us more if you will.

Michael Zalar said...

I've been studying the Kensington rune stone for over a decade now, and have published several peer reviewed papers on the subject, the latest just out in a Minnesota Historical Society publication "The State We're In"

Yes, I believe the rune stone is authentic, for several reasons which are too long to go into in depth.

The philologic (linguistic) evidence has never been conclusive. While there have been many papers published condemning the paper on linguistic grounds, others, equally professional and well documented which have disputed the claims. Not having the backround it is hard to make an absolute ruling on the subject. The most recent colaberation beteween and advocate and a skeptick of authenticity suggests that the language is possible for the time period (mid 14th century), though many exceptions need to be made.
As a historian, I tend to find grammatical errors to be not uncommon in leters from the field, such as Civil War letters, so I tend to fall on the side of those who believe arguments against the stone from a linguistic standpoint are at best inconclusive.

Geologically, experts have mostly come down on the side of authenticity. Dr Newton Winchell, a famed geologist studied the stone in 1909, a decade after its finding, and believed the inscription to be "of the era" of 500 years old.
An examination taking place just this decade found a certain form of mica had apparently decayed, which in other similar stones took over 200 years to decay, but this report is under some dispute.
Regarless, all reports show the inscription to be quite weathered - if only 50 years old, it would still be prior to the first settlement in the county. Another dozen years and it predates the first European trails into the area.

Antique maps show knowledge of Hudson Bay prior to its 'discovery' in 1612, at least as far back as 1507 (with a possibility of it being even early). Some of these maps refer to a book, the Invetio Fortunatae as a source.
We do not have a copy of this book, at best there is a letter describing some of what is in the book, and it acknowledges that the voyage (which went beyond Greenland) returned to Bergen in 1364, two years after the date inscribed on the stone. In other words this know historical voyage fit perfectly with the time of the purported Kensington voyage.
For the paper I mentioned earlier, I did a search of Google Books to find if the Inventio was known of in the 19th century and could be used by a forger. I did indeed find several (usually very brief) mentions of the trip. But in every case it was acknowledged to be an ENGLISH voyage - not one that a forger would tap to describe a Norse expedition.
A better date would have been circa 1347 when the Icelandic Annals refer to a boat arriving from Vinland having been blown off course.
It was not until the publication of the letter I mentioned, between Mercator and Dee, that it became obvious that the voyage was a Norse exploratory voyage.

I have found no unsurmountable difficulty for the expedition to have gotten as far inland as it did. The Red River of the North and the Ottertail River are navigable (even by 19th century steamboat) as far south from Lake Winnipeg as the vacintiy of Fergus Falls. That would be roughly the day's journey from the site of the killing mentioned in the inscription to the place where the stone was uncovered.

I hope this brief summary of why I believe in the stones authenticity will be helpful to those interested in the inscription.