Spirit Pond runestones

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Inscription on the map stone
Edward Larsson's notes from 1885 show the use of "pentadic" runic numerals to replace the Arabic numerals in representing dates.

The Spirit Pond runestones are three stones with allegedly runic inscriptions, found at Spirit Pond in Phippsburg, Maine in 1971 by a Walter J. Elliott, Jr., a carpenter born in Bath, Maine. The stones, currently housed at the Maine State Museum, are widely dismissed as a hoax or a fraud.[1][2] If authentic, they would be more evidence of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact and Norse colonization of the Americas.

Interpretation and authenticity[edit]

Unlike the prehistoric monumental runestones raised in Scandinavia, the Maine stones are small handheld objects similar to the authentic Kingittorsuaq Runestone found in Greenland in 1824.

Of the three stones, one contains a total of 15 lines of 'text' on two sides. The map stone contains a map with some inscriptions. Paul H. Chapman proposes that the map depicts the landscape visible from the 1,075 feet (328 m) high White Mountain, the highest point in the vicinity of Spirit Pond,[3] or the northern tip of Newfoundland.[4]

The inscriptions contain several instances of the use of pentadic numerals in arabic placement. The number 1011 appearing on the inscription (represented as "011") has been interpreted as a date, leading to speculation that the stones are connected to the expedition of Thorfinn Karlsefni.[5] Linguistic analysis, however, points to a later date. The first to study the stones scientifically was Harvard University professor Einar Haugen. In 1974, after transcribing, he found the individual runes used and the language of the inscription to be inconsistent with 11th century Old Norse. He also noted peculiarities relating the inscriptions directly to the Kensington Runestone inscription. Thus, he concluded that the inscriptions were most likely created after 1932.[2]

Amateur researchers have been more sympathetic to a medieval origin of the stones. Suzanne Carlson of NEARA, a group of enthusiasts who believe there was a widespread Viking presence in North America, suggests a mid 14th century date for the inscriptions, although it is unclear how Carlson arrived at this date.[6] Similarly, amateur rune-enthusiast Richard Nielsen claims a precise date of 1401.[7]


Analyzing and authenticating Christian era (post-Viking era) Norse runic inscriptions poses challenges. Runes remained in use in Scandinavia outside the learned circles (who used Latin) well into the Middle Ages, the corpus of surviving rune inscriptions is very small. The largest is the Bryggen inscriptions, sticks of pine with a few runes. The only major manuscript is the Codex Runicus from 1300.

One of many objections to the authenticity of North American runestones is the use of pentadic or "runic" numerals, used in both the Kensington and the Spirit Pond stones; their earliest authenticated use in an Arabic positional system is from 1885, in the notes of an 18-year-old journeyman tailor.

Transcribing the Spirit Pond inscriptions is in itself a challenge, and no authoritative transcription or translation exists. Suzanne Carlson claims that the stones tell a story of a sudden storm and fearful Vikings trying to save their ship from "the foamy arms of Aegir, angry god of the sea",[8][9] Linguist Einar Haugen say that the text contains only "a few Norse words in a sea of gibberish",[8] while according to American Heritage, mathematician O.G. Landsverk's attempts to make sense of the stone has "milked the gibberish found on clumsy fakes and plow-scarred boulders by declaring them to be cryptographic, a device that permits the stones to say virtually anything."[1]


  1. ^ a b Snow, Dean R. (October/November 1981). "Martians & Vikings, Maldoc & Runes". American Heritage Magazine 32(6). Archived from the original on September 29, 2007.
  2. ^ a b Haugen, Einar (1974). "The Rune Stones of Spirit Pond, Maine". The Journal of Typographical Research 8(1).
  3. ^ Chapman, Paul H. (July/September 2005). "Where in North America did the Vikings settle?" The Ensign Message 7(3).
  4. ^ Chapman, Paul H. (1992). "An In-Depth Examination of the Spirit Pond Runestones". Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers 21. pp. 114-138.
  5. ^ The Spirit Pond Runestones. p. 13.[full citation needed]
  6. ^ Carlson, Suzanne. "The Spirit Pond Stones and the Mysterious 'Facts' of their Fabrication". New England Antiquities Research Association.
  7. ^ Nielsen, Richard (1993). "An Old Norse Translation of the Spirit Pond Runic Inscriptions of Maine". Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers 22(1). pp. 158-218.
  8. ^ a b O. Carlson, Suzanne. "North Atlantic Rim, Barrier or Bridge?". New England Antiquities Research Association. Retrieved 2009-12-18. 
  9. ^ "The Spirit Pond Inscription Stone". Science Frontiers 93. May/June 1994.

Further reading[edit]

  • Carlson, Suzanne (Summer/Fall 1993). "The Spirit Pond Inscription Stone: Rhyme and Reason". New England Antiquities Research Association Journal 28(1).
  • Chapman, Paul H. (2004). "Spirit Pond Runestones, a Study in Linguistics". Epigraphic Society Occasional Papers 22(2). (Vienna, VA.) ASIN B0006F310A
  • Neilsen, Richard. "New Evidence on the Scandinavian Language, Numbers, and Runes found on the Spirit Pond Rune Stones". New England Antiquities Research Association.
  • Wahlgren, Erik (1982). American Runes: From Kensington to Spirit Pond. University of Illinois Press.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°44′54″N 69°48′31″W / 43.74833°N 69.80861°W / 43.74833; -69.80861