- Historic Sites
The Case Of The Kensington Rune Stone
An eminent scholar argues that its inscription is only a hoax.
April 1959 | Volume 10, Issue 3
Let us scrutinize Holand’s basic contentions in the light of true fact. Assertedly, the poplar under whose roots Olof Ohman found an inscribed stone in 1898 was then seventy years of age. Consequently, the tree must have been growing over the stone since 1828, a full generation earlier than Scandinavian settlement of Douglas County. The implications of this are truly impressive. But now as to facts. Apart from Ohman, his two young sons, and their immediate neighbor, Nils Flaten, nobody saw or even claimed to have seen the poplar in question. And it was not the Ohmans or Flaten who estimated the tree’s age at seventy years. All that was ever seen by outsiders was a hole in the ground, along with the stump and bent roots of a poplar that very well might have stood over a stone of the proper dimensions: roughly, thirty inches by sixteen by five or six. And just when did this inspection take place? It was in April, 1899, eight months after the sworn date of discovery.
A party of ten local residents were at the scene, digging in the thawed ground for buried treasure. They found none. According to the recollection of one of the party, C.W. Van Dyke, the group had estimated the age of the tree, from its roots, as “about twelve years.” Another member of the digging party, a jeweler named Samuel Olson, drew from memory a picture of the stump and roots at the request of Professor Winchell of the state historical society. The sketch reveals a tree that is clearly young. Yet another sketch of the tree is preserved. It is of no little interest because the author of it was none other than Olof Ohman himself. It shows the lower portion of a young tree. So much for the myth of an ancient tree, guardian of an inscription out of the hoary past.
Nothing in the world, however, compels us to believe that the Kensington inscription was even as much as twelve years old when “discovered.” According to an affidavit allegedly subscribed and sworn to by Olof Ohman himself, he uncovered the tablet in August, 1898. Yet the first person ever known to have seen the stone, inscribed, was the Kensington realtor, J.P. Hedberg. And he, as we saw above, did not pretend to have seen the mysterious artifact much before January 1 of the following year. A good four months must have separated the two events. And once worked out on paper, the Kensington inscription could have been carved within the space of a single day—”about two hours” is the estimate of the Minnesota sculptor John K. Daniels. Nowhere in all of this is to be discerned the slightest proof that the hieroglyphics date from the fourteenth century.
But geologists, we have been told for nearly fifty years, have determined through an examination of the patina, or weathering, of the inscription that it is an ancient carving, and geology is an exact science. The geologists themselves are more modest in their claims. Professor Winchell, who believed in the Kensington stone, stated with regard to his own calculations as to its weathering that such “figures are but rough estimates … and to a certain degree they are subject to the errors of the personal equation of the person who gives them.” Writing in 1910, twelve years after the runic find, Winchell stated that his “first impression derived from the inscription is that it is of recent date, and not 548 years old.” There are two possibilities, Winchell added. Either the stone was carved in 1362, as it pretends, in which case it must have lain underground and face down during the interim; or, it has been exposed to the weather, in which case the inscription may be assigned an age of “fifteen or thirty years,” and again, “probably less than thirty years.” If Winchell personally preferred the ancient theory, that was because of linguistic and historical reasons advanced to him by Holand. But, writing at a time when the finder, Ohman, had sat on his farm for twenty years and his neighbor, Flaten, for twenty-six years, Winchell admits that the inscription which had been found twelve years before may be as little as fifteen years old. With this admission, one more Kensingtonian argument has evaporated.
An important segment of Holand’s myth revolves around the purported identification of the Kensington “explorers” with a party under the captaincy of Paul Knutson, ostensibly sent to Greenland from Bergen, Norway, in the year 1355 by authority of King Magnus Eriksson (called Smek), ruler of Sweden and Norway. The alleged purpose of such a royal expedition was to save the Christian faith among the disheartened Scandinavian colonials of Greenland.