Kensington Runestone

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Kensington Runestone
The stone on display in the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and Runestone Museum
Created19th century
Discovered1898 CE
Originally Kensington; currently located at Alexandria, Minnesota, United States
Discovered byOlof Öhman
Text – Native
Swedish dialects

8 : göter : ok : 22 : norrmen : po :
...o : opþagelsefärd : fro :
vinland : of : vest : vi :
hade : läger : ved : 2 : skLär : en :
dags : rise : norr : fro : þeno : sten :
vi : var : ok : fiske : en : dagh : äptir :
vi : kom : hem : fan : 10 : man : röde :
af : blod : og : ded : AVM :
frälse : äf : illü.
här : (10) : mans : ve : havet : at : se :
äptir : vore : skip : 14 : dagh : rise :

from : þeno : öh : ahr : 1362 :
Eight Götalanders and 22 Northmen on (this?) exploration 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. (side of stone) There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island). Year 1362

The Kensington Runestone is a slab of greywacke stone covered in runes that was allegedly discovered in central Minnesota in 1898. Olof Öhman, a Swedish immigrant, reported that he unearthed it from a field in the largely rural township of Solem in Douglas County. It was later named after the nearest settlement, Kensington.

The inscription purports to be a record left behind by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century (internally dated to the year 1362). There has been a drawn-out debate regarding the stone's authenticity, but since the first scientific examination in 1910, the scholarly consensus has classified it as a 19th-century hoax, with some critics directly charging Öhman with fabrication.[1][2][3][4][5] Nevertheless, there remains a community convinced of the stone's authenticity.[6]


Swedish immigrant[7] Olof Öhman said that he found the stone late in 1898 while clearing land he had recently acquired of trees and stumps before plowing.[8][9] The stone was said to be near the crest of a small knoll rising above the wetlands, lying face down and tangled in the root system of a stunted poplar tree estimated to be from less than 10 to about 40 years old.[10] The artifact is about 30 × 16 × 6 inches (76 × 41 × 15 cm) in size and weighs 202 pounds (92 kg). Öhman's 10-year-old son Edward noticed some markings,[11] and the farmer later said he thought they had found an "Indian almanac".

During this period, the journey of Leif Ericson to Vinland (North America) was being widely discussed and there was renewed interest in the Vikings throughout Scandinavia, stirred by the National Romanticism movement. Five years earlier Norway had participated in the World's Columbian Exposition by sending the Viking, a replica of the Gokstad ship, to Chicago. There was also friction between Sweden and Norway (which ultimately led to Norway's independence from Sweden in 1905). Some Norwegians claimed the stone was a Swedish hoax and there were similar Swedish accusations because the stone references a joint expedition of Norwegians and Swedes. It is thought to be more than coincidental that the stone was found among Scandinavian newcomers in Minnesota, still struggling for acceptance and quite proud of their Nordic heritage.[12]

1911 bill of sale for the stone from Öhman to the Minnesota Historical Society

A copy of the inscription made its way to the University of Minnesota. Olaus J. Breda (1853–1916), professor of Scandinavian Languages and Literature in the Scandinavian Department, declared the stone to be a forgery and published a discrediting article which appeared in Symra in 1910.[13] Breda also forwarded copies of the inscription to fellow linguists and historians in Scandinavia, such as Oluf Rygh, Sophus Bugge, Gustav Storm, Magnus Olsen and Adolf Noreen. They "unanimously pronounced the Kensington inscription a fraud and forgery of recent date".[14]

The stone was then sent to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Scholars either dismissed it as a prank or felt unable to identify a sustainable historical context and the stone was returned to Öhman. Hjalmar Holand, a Norwegian-American historian and author, claimed Öhman gave him the stone.[15] However, the Minnesota Historical Society has a bill of sale showing Öhman sold them the stone for $10 in 1911. Holand renewed public interest with an article[16] enthusiastically summarizing studies that were made by geologist Newton Horace Winchell (Minnesota Historical Society) and linguist George T. Flom (Philological Society of the University of Illinois), who both published opinions in 1910.[17]

According to Winchell, the tree under which the stone was found had been destroyed before 1910. Several nearby poplars that witnesses estimated as being about the same size were cut down and, by counting their rings, it was determined they were around 30–40 years old. One member of the team who had excavated at the find site in 1899, county school superintendent Cleve Van Dyke, later recalled the trees being only 10 or 12 years old.[18] The surrounding county had not been settled until 1858, and settlement was severely restricted for a time by the Dakota War of 1862 (although it was reported that the best land in the township adjacent to Solem, Holmes City, was already taken by 1867, by a mixture of Swedish, Norwegian and "Yankee" settlers).[19]

Winchell estimated that the inscription was roughly 500 years old, by comparing its weathering with the weathering on the backside, which he assumed was glacial and 8000 years old. He also stated that the chisel marks were fresh.[20] More recently geologist Harold Edwards has also noted that "The inscription is about as sharp as the day it was carved ... The letters are smooth showing virtually no weathering."[21] Winchell also mentions in the same report that Prof. W. O. Hotchkiss, state geologist of Wisconsin, estimated that the runes were at least 50 to 100 years old. Meanwhile, Flom found a strong apparent divergence between the runes used in the Kensington inscription and those in use during the 14th century. Similarly, the language of the inscription was modern compared to the Nordic languages of the 14th century.[17]

The Kensington Runestone is on display at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.[22]

Text and translation[edit]

The stone in 1910

The text consists of nine lines on the face of the stone, and three lines on the edge, read as follows:[23]


8 : göter : ok : 22 : norrmen : po :
...o : opdagelsefärd : fro :
vinland : of : vest : vi :
hade : läger : ved : 2 : skjär : en :
dags : rise : norr : fro : deno : sten :
vi : var : ok : fiske : en : dagh : äptir :
vi : kom : hem : fan : 10 : man : röde :
af : blod : og : ded : AVM :
frälse : äf : illü.


här : (10) : mans : ve : havet : at : se :
äptir : vore : skip : 14 : dagh : rise :
from : deno : öh : ahr : 1362 :

The sequences rr, ll and gh represent actual digraphs. The AVM is written in Latin capitals. The numbers given in Arabic numerals in the above transcription are given in pentadic numerals. At least seven of the runes, including those transcribed a, d, v, j, ä, ö above, are not in any standard known from the medieval period (see below for details).[24] The language of the inscription is close to modern Swedish, the transliterated text being quite easily comprehensible to any speaker of a modern Scandinavian language. The language, being closer to the Swedish of the 19th than of the 14th century, is one of the main reasons for the scholarly consensus dismissing it as a hoax.[25]

The text translates to:

"Eight Geats and twenty-two Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland to the west. We had camp by two skerries one day's journey north from this stone. We were [out] to fish one day. After we came home [we] found ten men red of blood and dead. AVM (Ave Virgo Maria) save [us] from evil."

"[We] have ten men by the sea to look after our ships, fourteen days' travel from this island. [In the] year 1362."

Linguistic analysis[edit]

Holand took the stone to Europe and, while newspapers in Minnesota carried articles hotly debating its authenticity, the stone was quickly dismissed by Swedish linguists.

For the next 40 years, Holand struggled to sway public and scholarly opinion about the Runestone, writing articles and several books. He achieved brief success in 1949, when the stone was put on display at the Smithsonian Institution, and scholars such as William Thalbitzer and S. N. Hagen published papers supporting its authenticity.[26] At nearly the same time, Scandinavian linguists Sven Jansson, Erik Moltke, Harry Andersen and K. M. Nielsen, along with a popular book by Erik Wahlgren, again questioned the Runestone's authenticity.[25]

Along with Wahlgren, historian Theodore C. Blegen flatly asserted[14] Öhman had carved the artifact as a prank, possibly with help from others in the Kensington area. Further resolution seemed to come with the 1976 published transcript[27] of an interview of Frank Walter Gran, conducted by Paul Carson, Jr. on August 13, 1967, that had been recorded on audio tape.[28][29] In it, Gran said his father John confessed in 1927 that Öhman made the inscription. John Gran's story, however, was based on second-hand anecdotes he had heard about Öhman, and although it was presented as a dying declaration, Gran lived for several more years, saying nothing more about the stone.[citation needed]

The possibility of the Runestone being an authentic 14th-century artifact was again raised in 1982 by Robert Hall, an emeritus professor of Italian language and literature at Cornell University, who published a book (and a follow up in 1994) questioning the methodology of its critics. Hall asserted that the odd philological problems in the Runestone could be the result of normal dialectal variances in Old Swedish of the period. He further contended that critics had failed to consider the physical evidence, which he found leaning heavily in favor of authenticity.

In The Vikings and America (1986), Wahlgren again stated that the text bore linguistic abnormalities and spellings that he thought suggested the Runestone was a forgery.[30]

Lexical evidence[edit]

One of the main linguistic arguments for the rejection of the text as genuine Old Swedish is the term opthagelse farth (updagelsefard) 'journey of discovery'. This lexeme is unattested in either Scandinavian, Low Franconian or Low German before the 16th century.[31] Similar terms exist in modern Scandinavian (Norwegian oppdagingsferd or oppdagelsesferd, Swedish upptäcktsfärd). Opdage is a loan from Low German *updagen, Dutch opdagen, which is in turn from High German aufdecken, ultimately loan-translated from French découvrir 'to discover' in the 16th century.[citation needed] The Norwegian historian Gustav Storm often used the modern Norwegian lexeme in late 19th-century articles on Viking exploration, creating a plausible incentive for the manufacturer of the inscription to use this word.

Grammatical evidence[edit]

Another characteristic pointed out by skeptics is the text's lack of cases. Early Old Swedish (14th century) still retained the four cases of Old Norse, but Late Old Swedish (15th century) reduced its case structure to two cases, so that the absence of inflection in a Swedish text of the 14th century would be an irregularity. Similarly, the inscription text does not use the plural verb forms that were common in the 14th century and have only recently disappeared: for example, (plural forms in parenthesis) wi war (warum), hathe (hafðe), [wi] fiske (fiskaðum), kom (komum), fann (funnum) and wi hathe (hafðum).

Proponents of the stone's authenticity pointed to sporadic examples of these simpler forms in some 14th-century texts and to the great changes of the morphological system of the Scandinavian languages that began during the latter part of that century.[32]

Paleographic evidence[edit]

The inscription contains pentadic numerals. Such numerals are known in Scandinavia, but nearly always from relatively recent times, not from verified medieval runic monuments, on which numbers were usually spelled out as words.

S. N. Hagen stated "The Kensington alphabet is a synthesis of older unsimplified runes, later dotted runes, and a number of Latin letters ... The runes for a, n, s and t are the old Danish unsimplified forms which should have been out of use for a long time [by the 14th century] ... I suggest that [a posited 14th century] creator must at some time or other in his life have been familiar with an inscription (or inscriptions) composed at a time when these unsimplified forms were still in use" and that he "was not a professional runic scribe before he left his homeland".[33]

Edward Larsson's notes (1885)
Edward Larsson's runic alphabets from 1885

A possible origin for the irregular shape of the runes was discovered in 2004, in the 1883 notes of a then-16-year-old journeyman tailor with an interest in folk music, Edward Larsson.[34] Larsson's aunt had migrated with her husband and son from Sweden to Crooked Lake, just outside Alexandria, Minnesota in 1870.[35] Larsson's sheet lists two different Futharks. The first Futhark consists of 22 runes, the last two of which are bind-runes, representing the letter-combinations EL and MW. His second Futhark consists of 27 runes, where the last three are specially adapted to represent the letters å, ä, and ö of the modern Swedish alphabet. The runes in this second set correspond closely to the non-standard runes in the Kensington inscription.[34]

The abbreviation for Ave Maria consists of the Latin letters AVM. Wahlgren (1958) noted that the carver had incised a notch on the upper right-hand corner of the letter V.[25] The Massey Twins in their 2004 paper argued that this notch is consistent with a scribal abbreviation for a final -e used in the 14th century.[36]

Purported historical context[edit]

Sigillum ad causas for Magnus Eriksson, King of Norway and Sweden

Norse colonies are known to have existed in Greenland from the late 10th century to at least the 14th century, and at least one short-lived settlement was established in Newfoundland, at L'Anse aux Meadows, in the 11th century, but no other widely accepted material evidence of Norse contact with the Americas in the pre-Columbian era has yet emerged.[37] Still, there is some limited documentary evidence for possible 14th-century Scandinavian expeditions to North America.

In a letter by Gerardus Mercator to John Dee, dated 1577, Mercator refers to a Jacob Cnoyen, who had learned that eight men returned to Norway from an expedition to the Arctic islands in 1364. One of the men, a priest, provided the King of Norway with a great deal of geographical information.[38] In the early 19th century, Carl Christian Rafn mentioned a priest named Ivar Bardarsson who had previously been based in Greenland and turns up in Norwegian records from 1364 onward.[citation needed]

Furthermore, in 1354, King Magnus Eriksson of Sweden and Norway issued a letter appointing a law officer named Paul Knutsson as leader of an expedition to the colony of Greenland, in order to investigate reports that the population was turning away from Christian culture.[39] Another of the documents reprinted by the 19th-century scholars was a scholarly attempt by Icelandic Bishop Gisli Oddsson, in 1637, to compile a history of the Arctic colonies. He dated the Greenlanders' fall away from Christianity to 1342 and claimed that they had turned instead to America. Supporters of a 14th-century origin for the Kensington Runestone argue that Knutson may, therefore, have travelled beyond Greenland to North America in search of renegade Greenlanders, whereupon most of his expedition was killed in Minnesota, leaving just the eight voyagers to return to Norway.[40]

However, there is no evidence that the Knutson expedition ever set sail (the government of Norway went through considerable turmoil in 1355) and the information from Cnoyen as relayed by Mercator states specifically that the eight men who came to Norway in 1364 were not survivors of a recent expedition, but descended from the colonists who had settled the distant lands several generations earlier.[38] Those early 19th-century books, which aroused a great deal of interest among Scandinavian Americans, would have been available to a late 19th-century hoaxer.

Hjalmar Holand adduced the "blond" Indians among the Mandan on the Upper Missouri River as possible descendants of the Swedish and Norwegian explorers.[41] This was dismissed as "tangential" to the Runestone issue by Alice Beck Kehoe in her 2004 book The Kensington Runestone, Approaching a Research Question Holistically.[42]

The situation of Kensington

One possible route of such an expedition, connecting the Hudson Bay with Kensington, would lead up either Nelson River or Hayes River,[43] through Lake Winnipeg, then up the Red River of the North.[44] The northern waterway begins at Traverse Gap, on the other side of which is the source of the Minnesota River, which flows south to join the Mississippi River at Saint Paul/Minneapolis.[45] This route was examined by Flom (1910), who found that explorers and traders had come from Hudson Bay to Minnesota by this route decades before the area was officially settled.[46]

In popular culture[edit]

In May 2022, the St. Paul-based History Theatre premiered Runestone! A Rock Musical.[47] The show, written by Mark Jensen and composed by Gary Rue, explores the impact of the runestone on Öhman and his family, but leaves the veracity of the carving up to the audience to judge.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gustavson, Helmer. "The non-enigmatic runes of the Kensington stone". Viking Heritage Magazine. Gotland University. 2004 (3). "[...] every Scandinavian runologist and expert in Scandinavian historical linguistics has declared the Kensington stone a hoax [...]"
  2. ^ Wallace, B (1971). "Some points of controversy". In Ashe G; et al. (eds.). The Quest for America. New York: Praeger. pp. 154–174. ISBN 0-269-02787-4.
  3. ^ Wahlgren, Erik (1986). The Vikings and America (Ancient Peoples and Places). Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-02109-0.
  4. ^ Michlovic MG (1990). "Folk Archaeology in Anthropological Perspective". Current Anthropology. 31 (11): 103–107. doi:10.1086/203813. S2CID 144500409.
  5. ^ Hughey M, Michlovic MG (1989). "Making history: The Vikings in the American heartland". Politics, Culture and Society. 2 (3): 338–360. doi:10.1007/BF01384829. S2CID 145559328.
  6. ^ Søderlind, Didrik (December 7, 2005). "Kan du stole på Wikipedia?". (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on October 7, 2007. Retrieved December 19, 2008. Det finnes en liten klikk med amerikanere som sverger til at steinen er ekte. De er stort sett skandinaviskættede realister uten peiling på språk, og de har store skarer med tilhengere." [There is a small clique of Americans who swear to the stone's authenticity. They are mainly natural scientists of Scandinavian descent with no knowledge of linguistics, and they have large numbers of adherents.]
  7. ^ "Olof Ohman (1854-1935)". Kensington Area Heritage Society. Retrieved November 9, 2021.
  8. ^ "Extract from 1886 plat map of Solem township". Archived from the original on October 22, 2009. Retrieved October 31, 2007.
  9. ^ Stephen Minicucci, Internal Improvements and the Union, 1790–1860, Studies in American Political Development (2004), 18: p.160-185, (2004), Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S0898588X04000094. "Federal appropriations for internal improvements amounted to $119.8 million between 1790 and 1860. The bulk of this amount, $77.2 million, was distributed to the states through indirect methods, such as land grants or distributions of land sale revenues, which would today be labeled "off-budget.""
  10. ^ "Done in Runes". Minneapolis Journal. appendix to "The Kensington Rune Stone" by T. Blegen, 1968. February 22, 1899. ISBN 9780873510448. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
  11. ^ Hall Jr., Robert A.: The Kensington Rune-Stone Authentic and Important, page 3. Jupiter Press, 1994.
  12. ^ Michael G. Michlovic, "Folk Archaeology in Anthropological Perspective", Current Anthropology 31.1 (February 1990:103–107) p. 105ff.
  13. ^ Olaus J. Breda. Rundt Kensington-stenen (Symra. 1910, pp. 65–80)
  14. ^ a b Blegen, T (1960). The Kensington Rune Stone : New Light on an Old Riddle. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0-87351-044-5.
  15. ^ Holand, Hjalmar (1957). My First Eighty Years. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc. p. 188.
  16. ^ Holand, "First authoritative investigation of oldest document in America", Journal of American History 3 (1910:165–84); Michlovic noted Holand's contrast of the Scandinavians as undaunted, brave, daring, faithful and intrepid contrasted with the Indians as savages, wild heathens, pillagers, vengeful, like wild beasts: an interpretation that "placed it squarely within the framework of Indian-white relations in Minnesota at the time of its discovery" (Michlovic 1990:106).
  17. ^ a b Winchell NH, Flom G (1910). "The Kensington Rune Stone: Preliminary Report" (PDF). Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. 15. Retrieved November 28, 2007.
  18. ^ Milo M. Quaife, "The myth of the Kensington runestone: The Norse discovery of Minnesota 1362", in The New England Quarterly, December 1934
  19. ^ Lobeck, Engebret P. (1867). "Holmes City narrative on Trysil (Norway) emigrants website (via". Archived from the original on June 29, 2003. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  20. ^ Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith. "The Kensington Runestone". Bad Archaeology. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  21. ^ "Calcite Weathering and the Age of the Kensington Rune Stone Inscription (Lightning Post)". Andy White Anthropology. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  22. ^ "Kensington Runestone Museum, Alexandria Minnesota". Retrieved December 19, 2008.
  23. ^ Sven B. F. Jansson, "'Runstenen' från Kensington i Minnesota" in Nordisk Tidskrift för Vetenskap 25 (1949) 377–405. W. Krogmann, "Der 'Runenstein' von Kensington, Minnesota', Jahrbuch für Amerikastudien, 1958 3: 59–111. Inge Skovgaard-Petersen, review of: Theodore C. Blegen: The Kensington Rune Stone. New Light on an Old Riddle. St. Paul, Minnesota Historical Society, 1968. Historisk Tidsskrift, Bind 12. række, 5 (1971).
  24. ^ Aslak Liestöl, "The Bergen Runes and the Kensington Inscription Minnesota History 40 (1966), p. 59 [1] "To Scandinavian scholars this will not be startling news, for they are agreed that the Kensington inscription is modern. [...] The myth of the Kensington stone lives on, I am sorry to say, partly because scholarship has failed in making its views known in a form suitable to convince the public."
  25. ^ a b c Wahlgren, Erik (1958). The Kensington Stone, A Mystery Solved. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 1-125-20295-5.
  26. ^ "Olof Ohman's Runes". TIME. October 8, 1951. Archived from the original on February 23, 2009. Retrieved February 8, 2009.
  27. ^ Fridley, R (1976). "The case of the Gran tapes". Minnesota History. 45 (4): 152–156.
  28. ^ " / POSTSCRIPTS". May 7, 2006. Archived from the original on May 7, 2006. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  29. ^ "The Case of the Gran Tapes", Minnesota History pages 152–156 (Winter 1976) [2]
  30. ^ Wahlgren, Erik (1986). The Vikings and America (Ancient Peoples and Places). Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-02109-0.
  31. ^ Williams, Henrik (2012). "The Kensington Runestone: Fact and Fiction". The Swedish-American Historical Quarterly. 63 (1): 3–22.
  32. ^ John D. Bengtson. "The Kensington Rune Stone: A Study Guide" (PDF). Retrieved November 23, 2013.
  33. ^ S. N. Hagen, The Kensington Runic Inscription, in: Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, Vol. XXV, No.3, July 1950.
  34. ^ a b Tryggve Sköld (2003). "Edward Larssons alfabet och Kensingtonstenens" (PDF). DAUM-katta (in Swedish). Umeå: Dialekt-, ortnamns- och folkminnesarkivet i Umeå (Winter 2003): 7–11. ISSN 1401-548X. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 17, 2010. Retrieved February 6, 2009.
  35. ^ "Kensingtonsteinens gåte". Schrödingers katt (in Norwegian). December 20, 2012. NRK. Episode subtitles (click "Teksting"). Retrieved August 8, 2013.
  36. ^ Keith and Kevin Massey, "Authentic Medieval Elements in the Kensington Stone", in Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications Vol. 24 2004, pp 176–182
  37. ^ Irwin, Constance. Strange Footprints on the Land. 1980. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-022772-9
  38. ^ a b Taylor, E.G.R. (1956). "A Letter Dated 1577 from Mercator to John Dee". Imago Mundi. 13: 56–68. doi:10.1080/03085695608592127.
  39. ^ "Diplomatarium Norvegicum". Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  40. ^ Holand, Hjalmar (1959). "An English scientist in America 130 years before Columbus". Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy. 48: 205–219ff.
  41. ^ Hjalmar Holand, "The Kensington Rune Stone: A Study in Pre-Columbian American History." Ephraim WI, self-published (1932).
  42. ^ Alice Beck Kehoe, The Kensington Runestone: Approaching a Research Question Holistically, Long Grove IL, Waveland Press (2004) ISBN 1-57766-371-3. Chapter 6.
  43. ^ The Grass River Archived 2014-08-23 at the Wayback Machine at Great Canadian Rivers
  44. ^ Harry B. Brehaut & P. Eng The Red River Cart and Trails in Transactions of the Manitoba Historical Society, series 3 no. 28 (1971–2)
  45. ^ Pohl, Frederick J. "Atlantic Crossings before Columbus" New York, W.W. Norton & Co. (1961) p212
  46. ^ Flom, George T. "The Kensington Rune-Stone" Springfield IL, Illinois State Historical Soc. (1910) p37
  47. ^ a b Preston, Rohan (May 10, 2022). "REVIEW: History or hoax? 'Runestone!' turns over some questions". Star Tribune. Retrieved August 10, 2022.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°48.788′N 95°40.305′W / 45.813133°N 95.671750°W / 45.813133; -95.671750