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

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Kensington Rune Stone Revisited

For you West Coastians, the Kensington Runestone was purportedly found by a farmer in west central Minnesota. Olof Öhman came out of his fields in 1898 carrying the tablet like Moses coming down from the mountain. For some Scandinavians it is akin to the Ten Commandments. Or more important.

"8 Geats (Swedes) 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."

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

The following was posted by Michael Zalar as two comments to my earlier posting on the rune stone. While this is not something I lose sleep over, I would have to say that he has has changed my mind on the this issue.
Michael Zalar:

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".

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 letters 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.


reverend dick said...

There were so many grammatikal errors in that treatise that I conclude it must be valid.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dick.

Also, what does the Virgin Mary have to do with it. When I was a Viking, we never whined about a few guys getting offed. Hey, more grub for me!

big mikey

Gunnar Berg said...

I attended St.Olaf College (a Lutheran saint?). It's rallying cry, "Fram! Fram! Kristmenn, Krossmenn, kongsmenn!" was borrowed from the supposed battle cry of Olaf Haraldsson at the battle of Stikestad. My Norwegian language prof, an actual transplanted Norwegian, scoffed at this, saying it was more likely, "Torture the Peasants!". Which I can no longer say in Norwegian.

Echelon 133 said...

I knew there was something amiss.... St. Olaf pffffttt. As Cal Lutheran Alum can we keep the disparaging remarks about Swedes (geats) to a minimum.

Besides I thought it was Lutefisk, Lutefisk, Lefse, Lefse, were de Mighty Lutherans ya sure ya betcha!

That was our rallying cry at least after a few at the victory party. You know rape, pillage and rob I say.

Gunnar Berg said...

"St.Olaf pfffttt"

I will not rise to that bait. I am neither Lutheran nor Norwegian. I dropped out of St.Olaf and am not associated with it nor feel any allegiance to it.

Echelon 133 said...

Damn! I can't even get a rise out of you.

What kind of blog is this?

meyerprints said...


Gunnar Berg said...

Also, your lutefisk and lefse (and fishballs, etc)are Norwegian fare. As a Dane, our traditional foods are good cheeses, sausages, puddings, baked goods and all vegetables cooked in heavy cream. Rullepolse, frikadeller, etc.

Echelon 133 said...

Not to mention open face sandwiches.

Ok I'm done what is the next dead horse to beat?