The Kensington Runestone

An alleged Viking artifact

The Kensington Runestone is perhaps the best known among artifacts that would demonstrate the presumed Scandinavian presence in America in the pre-Columbian era and has always been at the center of lively controversies as, if its authenticity were demonstrated, it would allow the discovery of the American continent by Viking explorers.

It, which looks like a 202-pound slab of greywacke stone, was found in November 1898 by the Swedish immigrant farmer, Olaf Ohman and his son Edward, during the clearing of an area near his home. In fact, he noticed that the roots of one of the trees that he had recently uprooted were tightly wrapped around a stone on which some signs were engraved. He then decided to take it to the nearby Scandinavian immigrant village of Kensington, where it was exhibited and where one of the inhabitants realized that those signs were a runic inscription, the ancient Norse alphabet.

The Kensington Runestone-Minnesota

Scandinavian language experts, including O.J. Breda, who was sent an approximate copy of the signs, considered the inscription a modern forgery but in 1907 Norwegian-American historian and author Hjalmar Holand visited the Kensington community and after a careful analysis of the find was convinced of the authenticity of the inscription so during the next fifty years he tried to persuade public opinion of his "discovery".

The runes were then translated, revealing details of vital importance to support the hypothesis of the Viking presence in the Americas: “« Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) Acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west. We had a camp by two (shelters?) One day's journey north from this stone. We were fishing one day. After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead. Ave Maria save from evil. There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362 »“.

In the late 1940s, the artifact was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, where Dr. Matthew Stirling, director of the American Bureau of Ethnology, called it the "probably most important archaeological find ever found in North America". Today the stone is found at the Rune Stone Museum in Alexandria, the nearest town to Kensington, and a huge granite reproduction is found at Runestone Memorial Park, together with a giant concrete Viking (Big Ole) on whose shield is written “ Alexandria, Birthplace of America ".


Is the Kensington Runestone authentic?

Unfortunately, the circumstances of its discovery were never clarified and there are many conflicting versions about it.
The tree stump was not preserved and therefore the burial age of the stone could not be established by taking into account the rings of the trunk.
Later estimates attribute an approximate age of seventy years to the tree, dating the burial of the stone to a period prior to the modern Scandinavian settlement in the area, were based exclusively on Ohman's testimony.

Many experts also believe that the inscriptions are a fake: Professor Erik Wahlgren of the University of California, a great scholar of the Kensington Runestone, considers it a forgery, based on the vocabulary, grammar and dating system.
The inscription, according to him, includes many unusual forms of words, such as "ded", apparently derived from the English "dead", and the compound term "opdagelsefard", which would mean "journey of exploration". The grammar is strange, the words have endings that seem inappropriate in the fourteenth century, but were standard in the eighteenth. All numbers in the text are in Arabic form, while medieval runic inscriptions were written using Roman numerals.

Edward Larsson's rune cipher resembling that found on the Kensington Runestone

Documents written in 1885 by a Swedish tailor named Edward Larsson revealed the secret use of a runic form among traders: some runes used in Larsson's documents would correspond to those on the stone and would therefore belong to a more modern code.


Defenders of the Kensington Runestone searched Scandinavian archives, sifting through all its languages and dialects for similar words and found a number of matches, but no trace of the term "opdagelsefard". They were also able to show that Arabic numerals were used in Scandinavia in the fourteenth century (however, it is not the same to use these numbers in a runic inscription, since this implies the mixing of two completely different communication systems).
Holand sought a link between the date on the stone (1362) and Scandinavian history: in 1354 Magnus Eriksson, king of Sweden and Norway, commissioned a certain Powell Knutsson to sail to Greenland to protect local Christians.
It is possible that this expedition went too far west, ending up in Vinland, culminating in the exploration of the American hinterland. If this group were the same as the stone speaks of, the iteration between the survivors and the local populations could have justified the presence of the so-called "blond Indians" in the Mandan tribe, who lived along the Missouri, even if the anthropologist Alice Beck Kehoe disputed this and other hypotheses that suggest pre-Columbian contacts with 'outsiders', such as Hochunk's (Winnebago) story about an ancestral "Red Horn" hero and his encounter with "red-haired giants". The geologist Scott Wolter is convinced that the stone is authentic as the alteration of the inscription due to atmospheric agents confirms that it is ancient and could not have been produced in the late nineteenth century.

The Kensington Runestone-Vinland_Map_HiRes.jpg

Is a Scandinavian presence in the United States in 1362 plausible? A possible evidence to support this is given by the Map of Vinland, according to which Scandinavians of the early fifteenth century appear to be aware of a successful expedition to America by Bishop Erik of Greenland in the twelfth century. However, even that document is at the center of a controversy regarding its authenticity.

Counterfeit artifact or Out Of Place Artifact?

To date, there is no evidence to support the authenticity of the Kensington Runestone, which suggests that it is a counterfeit. But for what purpose? The World Columbian Exposition, scheduled for 1892 in Chicago, to celebrate Columbus's discovery of America, infuriated many Scandinavian Americans in the Midwest, who perceived it as a kind of betrayal of their ancestors. Many Scandinavian Americans welcomed the discovery of a runic inscription confirming their belief.
It is therefore assumed that the material executor of the "false history" is Olaf Ohman himself, assisted in the realization of the inscription by a partner. To support this last thesis there would be an episode dated January 1, 1899: JP Hedberg, a businessman from Kensington, sent an allegedly exact copy of the registration to the editor of a Swedish-language newspaper in Minneapolis, risking that it was written in ancient Greek letters.
Subsequent comparisons with the stone showed that Hedberg's copy contained numerous as well as strange errors and when the Hedberg copy was submitted to runes expert Erik Moltke of the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen, he stated that in all likelihood that was none other than a preliminary draft of the false entry that Hedberg had sent to the newspaper, not a copy.
This conclusion was based on the fact that the mistakes were not the gross ones that someone who does not know the language he is copying would make but they were real runes very difficult to write. According to Wahlgren, Hedberg's copy "was written by a person skilled in runes, since the sure way in which they are drawn seems to exclude an inexperienced person". It is therefore led to suspect that Hedberg was involved in the "discovery" of the inscription.

In 1973 a certain Walter Cran on his deathbed recorded a tape in which he claimed that his father, John, had confessed to him, while he was dying, that he had recorded the inscriptions with Olaf Ohman. Walter had then investigated and obtained confirmation of the story from John Ohman, son of Olaf, shortly before he passed away. The purpose, according to Cran, was to "mock the nation, especially the learned".

While three dying confessions seem an unlikely coincidence, these details seem to put an end to the case of the Kensington stone.

Trust not him whose father, brother or other kin you have slain no matter how young he be, for often grows the wolf in the child.

-Volsunga Saga

Resources related to The Kensington Runestone

Cover Image by Mauricio Valle

Article image by Wonderlane

Article image 2 by Omar David Sandoval Sida

Article image 3 by Edward Larsson

Article image 4 by Yale University Press

article by: Astronaut01

Search in the archive:
kensington runestone
out of place artifacts
red haired giants
runic alphabet
vikings in america