Kensington Runestone

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Kensington Runestone?

The Kensington Runestone is a slab of Graywacke stone, grey in color, measuring 36 inches long, 16 inches wide, and 6 inches thick. It contains runic writing along the face of the stone and along one edge. The stone was found on the property of a Minnesota farmer named Olaf Ohman in November of 1898. Upon finding the stone, Mr. Ohman and his sons noted the runic letters, but could not decipher them. The stone was thereafter examined by many runic scholars, who discovered that the runes claimed to be an account of Norse explorers in the 14th Century. Many scholars who have since examined the stone have claimed it a childish forgery, some have testified to its authenticity. The stone currently resides in the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota, the seat of the county in which the stone was found.

What does the inscription say?

The inscription is in 2 parts.

The portion on the face of the stone says:
"Eight Goths and 22 Norwegians on a journey of exploration from Vinland very far west. We had camp by 2 rocky islands one day's journey north from this stone. We were out fishing one day. After we came home we found 10 men red with blood and dead. AVM save from evil."

The portion along the edge of the stone says:
"Have 10 men by the sea to look after our ships 14 days' journey from this island. Year 1362."

The inscription, if genuine, would be one of the longest ancient runic inscriptions in the world. It is certainly one of the most controversial.

How and where was it found?

On November 8, 1898, a farmer named Olaf Ohman, several of his sons, and some men from neighboring farms were clearing lumber and pulling stumps in preparation for plowing. Ohman was having considerable difficulty digging one tree, a poplar estimated to be between 10 and 40 years old, which was on the southern slope of a 50-foot knoll between his farm and that of Nils Flaaten, Ohman's closest neighbor. When the tree was finally uprooted, the cause of Ohman's trouble came into view: entwined in the roots of the aspen was a 200 pound slab of graywacke, the Kensington Runestone. The roots of the tree, especially the largest root, were flattened by contact with the stone, as was noted by several people who were there and by later visitors to the site. The stone was found face down in the soil, about six inches below ground level.

Where has it been since?

The history of the stone since Ohman found it has been an interesting one. After the initial discovery of the stone, it was sent to the University of Minnesota for scholars to examine. The stone made its way to Chicago, where several Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian scholars declared it a fraud of recent date. The stone was then returned to Mr. Ohman, who put it to use as a doorstep for his granary.

In 1907, a young scholar named Hjalmar R. Holand purchased the stone from Mr. Ohman and began to promote it, giving speeches and writing books about the stone, Viking settlements in America, and the "Holy Mission" of Paul Knutson, which supposedly left the stone behind.

For most of 1948 the stone was on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, where the Curator and Director publicly praised it as "probably the most important archeological object yet found in North America."

The stone was returned to Minnesota in March of 1949 to be unveiled in St. Paul in honor of the state's centennial. In August it came to a permanent home in Alexandria, Minnesota, at the Runestone Museum, where it resides to this day.

Are secret "messages" hidden in the inscription?

Several authors, especially the late Alf Monge (a cryptologist with the U.S. Signal Corps during WWII) claim to have "deciphered" secret messages in the runic inscriptions on the Kensington Runestone (and others) and discovered a wealth of information from the name of the person who carved them to the date they were carved to perpetual religious calendars.
Monge gives the following dates for various runic inscriptions:

It should be noted that none of these dates has been (or perhaps can be) independently verified.

Is the Runestone genuine?

"We can confidently say that the authenticity of the Kensington Runestone...has been established. The battle is essentially in the past" -- Orval Friedrich, 1986

"From the very beginning the Kensington inscription was recognized by linguistic scholars on both sides of the Atlantic as a simple...modern forgery" -- Erik Wahlgren, 1986

There are three possibilities concerning the authenticity of the stone:
The first it that it is a modern forgery, that the runic inscriptions were carved upon the stone 500+ years after the 1362 date claimed by the inscription. This is the camp in which most linguists and scholars reside, and they cite several good reasons why the inscription cannot be genuine:

Samuel Eliot Morison has written, "Common sense should dismiss this as a hoax...Norsemen were sea discoverers, not land explorers; what possible object could they have had in sailing into Hudson Bay, or through Lake Superior to the portage, and striking out into the wilderness?"

A good question, and one that leads us to our second possibility: that the stone is genuine, and was actually carved by Norsemen in 1362, but in a spot other than where it was found. In other words, the Norsemen in question may not have even been in Minnesota at all. Where it was originally carved is, of course, pure speculation, as there are not many evidences of Vikings anywhere in North America as late as the 14th Century. However, the story becomes a lot more plausible for some if the massacre occurred in Maine or Newfoundland. How the stone got into Ohman's swamp is anybody's guess.

The third possibility is that the stone is what it claims to be: the witness of a lone party of thirty Norse explorers in the middle of North America in 1362. Several facts about the location and discovery of the stone lend weight to this possibility.

What was the "Holy Mission"?

According to Holand, a Swede named Paul Knutson was sent in 1354 by King Magnus Ericcson of Sweden and Norway to discover why settlements in Greenland were disappearing, and to bring some Pagans into the Catholic fold. Arriving in Greenland, Knutson found nothing but a few cattle, no settlement was in sight. Again, according to Holand, the mission then continued west to Vinland, and west from Vinland, entering Hudson Bay and traveling up the Nelson River and the Red River (into Minnesota), then the Buffalo River to establish a camp at Lake Cormorant. The party was attacked by Pagan Vikings (rather than the usually-blamed Indians) at that site. The remnants of the party then fled south and carved the runestone on the "island" where it was discovered by Farmer Ohman. Knutson himself never returned, although 7 men (including navigator Nicholas of Lynn) are claimed to have made it back to Europe.

Are there other runestones in America?

There are many claims of other runestones, along with assorted relics and "mooring holes" found in areas of Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, lending evidence to the idea that there were significant Norse incursions into the the continent. The relics include halberds, battle axes, spears, and boat hooks. Many of the relics have been claimed by critics to be modern items mistaken for ancient relics, although some (like the "Beardmore Relics") are known to be ancient, but are claimed to have been planted in order to fool the gullible.

The mooring holes are a different story, however. Mooring holes are holes in large boulders into which the Vikings dropped a peg, attached to the ship, to "anchor" it to the shore. Friedrich claims that more than 200 such holes have been found, from South Dakota to Michigan, and that they show that there was a significant Viking presence in North America from about 1000 to 1400. Critics argue that the holes were drilled by modern folk for blasting, but Friedrich argues, who would go to the trouble of drilling a blasting hole and then fail to blast it? Also, drilled holes are round with "V" shaped bottoms, while the mooring holes are rounded triangles with "U" shaped bottoms.

On the subject of rune stones, there is one which is worth mentioning: the "Heavener Runestone" of Oklahoma. The Heavener Runestone is a slab about 12 feet high, 10 feet wide, and 16 inches thick with runic letters spelling out the word "Gaomedat". By reversing two runes which appear to be different from the others, the inscription becomes "Glomedal", or "Glome's Valley". It could also be rendered "G. Nomedal", Nomedal being a Norwegian family name.

Several smaller runestones are claimed to have been found (Poteau, Shawnee, Tulsa, all found in the area of Heavener, Oklahoma), although none so famous (or controversial) as the Kensington or Heavener stones.

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