History

It was 1898 when Olof Ohman was felling a tree on his farm near Kensington, MN. When the tree toppled, Olof and his sons noticed a stone about the size and shape of a tombstone held in the clutches of the tree roots. Olof had emigrated from Sweden to Minnesota 19 years earlier, but had lived on this farm only eight years.

Two of his sons were working with him when the stone was found, Olof Jr. and Edward. When Olof saw the stone it was inscription down. He was frustrated by this additional barrier and worked a hoe down alongside the stone to see how deep it went. Being shallow, he was able to hook the hoe under it and flip it over. Young Edward was playing on the stone's surface when he noticed writing and called it to his father's attention. The writing was not easily visible because the runes had filled with mud. This fact would play a significant role as the stone's early history played out.

Locals who had been in the area longer than Olof went on records that when settlers first arrived in the region 20-30 years earlier, there were no trees on the hill where the stone was discovered. Since then a number of treees had grown up that we can presume were 20-30 years old, and they were about 8 inches in diameter. At least 12 people in the area witnessed the stone and the roots that were wrapped around it and they gave written statements.

The stone could not have been placed under the tree, and there was a chain of witnesses from the time it came out of the ground. The flattened roots and the root marks on the stone make it apparent that this stone was under that tree for a long time, over 20 years. That precludes a hoax by Ohman unless one wants to engage in a flight of fantasy where Olof somehow manages to carve what was a blank stone in the time between uncovering it and when witnesses other than his sons saw it, a matter of hours.

Young_Olof_web

As said, the runes were caked with mud so Olof used a nail to scratch them out and attempt to read them. Those scratch marks would haunt the rune stone as detractors claimed that they were the marks of recent carving. In fact the scratches are down in the runes and the remainder of the carved surfaces show obvious weathering compared to the scratches. The runes were quite old, certainly older than the 20 years Olof had been in the area, and the scratches were recent as Olof admitted.

Another bit of confusion surrounding the stone’s early history set the stage for what was to be a series of scholarly injustices spanning many decades. Olof Ohman made a copy of the inscription and sent it off for evaluation whereby it fell into the hands of a university professor, Olaus Beda. Beda asked an acquaintance in Kensington, Samuel Siverts to make an inscription and forward it to him which he did. The two transcriptions varied somewhat and so was born the myth that the Siverts copy had been the template from which Olof worked as he carved the stone. Copies were sent around the country and to Sweden and detractors quickly lined up to leap to the conclusion that the carving was a hoax by a farmer who knew a little Old Swedish from a book.

Scholarly Injustices to Olof Ohman and The Rune Stone

One cannot help but notice the similarity between the rush to judgment surrounding the rune stone, and the fabrications and lies told to advance the colonial theory of the Newport Tower. The difference is, that with the tower they were directed merely at the truth, and with the stone they were directed at a man and his family. The scratched out runes and the Siverts copy, flimsy evidence though they were, became the basis for an attempt to discredit Olof Ohman and create the groundless conclusion that he had carved the stone himself.

Then a chorus of scholars chimed in, perhaps believing they were being fair and unbiased, but jumping to conclusions about the language of the runes and their authenticity. Had the KRS been approached with even a modicum of the objectivity science supposedly holds itself to, it would have been accepted as genuine a century ago. The bible on the KRS is the Wolter/Nielsen book, The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence" For anyone wanting to dig deeply into the KRS, this book is a must. It has an extensive chapter on scandals in scholarship of which we will cover only the high points.

As early as 1910, it was being said that the runic age in Scandinavia was over by 1300 even though it was later proven that runes were in use in Norway and on Gotland well into the 1500s. It was also declared that Old Swedish was a well known language and that words on the stone that were unknown in Old Swedish were proof of a forgery. But in fact Old Swedish was not well known at all. The unknown words were later found to be correct, and there is no way a Minnesota farmer could have known about them or used them.

Almost all the early cheap shots at the stone had their roots in the pronouncements of scholars and runologists. The pattern was simply to find a word or form, declare it to be unheard of in academia, and then declare it definitive proof of the rune stone’s forgery. One wonders then, if it was so definitively proven a fake, over and over, why is it still so controversial today? The answer is simple - THEY WERE WRONG! One by one the great scholars have been knocked down as the words and forms they declared unknown and impossible are documented on artifacts from the correct period. So not only has the authenticity of the stone been vindicated, it is apparent to what extent the stone and its discoverer have been wronged. This history has sadly been the equivalent of keeping a man in prison for 50 years and evidence later shown to be in error and even trumped up.

Historical Timeline

What follows is a brief timeline of the Kensington Rune Stone after its discovery. As said above, many of these entries will concern the linguistic misinterpretations as scholars piled on to declare the stone a hoax. We will delve deeper into the runes themselves and the linguistics in the Linguistics section.

1899 February - The stone is shipped to the home of Professor Curme at Northwestern University, the first linguist to examine the stone. He was skeptical but did note the weathering. Perhaps more importantly, he stated that, I have sent to Minnesota and asked that the ground about the tree be dug up and examined. Bones can be kept intact for a longer period than 500 years if the soil is favorable and some remains ought to be found. Curme thereby creates the expectation that the bodies of the ten men red with blood should be buried at the discovery site.

1899 March - Professor Curme creates another legend with his statement, The most positive proof that the inscription is not of the ancient origin claimed by its discoverers is the fact that the crevices which form the letters are of a lighter color than the outer surface of the stone; this could hardly be the case if the stone had been buried for the 600 years that must have elapsed provided the inscription is genuine. He refers, of course, to the scratching Olof did with a nail to clear mud from the runes. A careful examination would have shown that, but another rush to judgment created a myth that still persists today. And note that he calls it the most positive proof of a hoax.

1899 March - John F. Stewart takes the first known photographs of the Kensington Rune Stone at Prof. Curme’s home.

1899 April - Stewart writes a letter in which he says the inscriptions are on the two cleavage surfaces of the stone, which have received no dressing. They are cut as with a diamond-pointed tool. The grooves show no more newness than the natural surfaces of the rock; on the contrary all show age. Noteworthy is that Steward is an amateur geologist and no doubt examined the grooves much more closely than did Curme.

1907 August - Hjalmar Holand took possession of the stone from Olof Ohman. Holand was a historian and over the years he wrote six books about the KRS and was a champion for its authenticity.

1907 August - The Minnesota Historical Society launched an investigation into the authenticity of the KRS. They chose geologist Newton H. Winchell to head the study.

1909 July - Olof Ohman, Nils Flaaten, Roald Benson, Samuel Olson, and Edward Ohman sign affidavits about the discovery of the stone. This is done in Douglas County (Kensington) and the statements are witnessed and notarized. They appear later in the documents section.

1909 December - Winchell has been hard at work examining the discovery site and interviewing persons around Kensington. Samuel Olson tells Winchell that Olof said the stone was not given to Holand as his personal property. Ohman himself tells Winchell to keep the stone and not allow Holand to take it. Winchell completes his 11 page report on the Kensington Rune Stone.

1910 January - Another linguist chimes in. Prof. O.J. Breda calls the inscription a hoax and comments, “and the language! That it was not Old Norse was clear at a glance...” Of course he is later proven wrong.

1910 March - W.O. Hotchkiss, the state Geologist of Wisconsin, wrote a letter to the Minnesota Historical Society in which he says the old runes are at least 50-100 years old unless some artificial process was used to produce the weathered appearance. In other words, the stone was carved before there were any white settlers in the area.

1910 March - Winchell interviews Joseph Horvedt who suggests that Ohman carved the stone. But his livery man tells Winchell that you can’t go much by what he says because he is always contrary. Winchell comments that Horvedt is “the only man I have found who doubts the authenticity of the stone.” Winchell travels to interview several others about whether Ohman could have carved the runes, and they all agree that Horvedt is unreliable.

1910 Spring - One R. Anderson wrote an article claiming that A. Anderson, a neighbor of Olof’s, had implied with a wink that Ohman had carved the runes. A. Anderson wrote a letter to the editor denying the claim and saying that he said only that perhaps it could have been done, but that it was or that he believed it had been done. Olof also writes to Winchell denying the story.

1910 Spring - A Swedish linguist, Otto von Frisen, declares the inscription a hoax and says, “The inscription is fabricated in modern time by a man who was partly acquainted with runes but where this partial knowledge failed, he created himself new characters.” As the years went by, it would be proven that the “created” characters were in fact in use in medieval times but the linguists had not yet discovered them. Hence, the mystery runes became a powerful argument for the authenticity of the stone since a carver in the 19th century could not possibly have known about them.

1911 Spring - Holand is now claiming the rune stone as his own property and offers to sell it to the MN Historical Society for $5,000. Olof Ohman is to get only $100 if the deal goes through. But the Society elects not to buy the stone, and it is returned to Holand.

1911 Summer - Holand goes to Europe with the rune stone. He is roundly rejected by the scholars who use the same arguments that had been refuted in the US. This situation cannot be summarized better than by the letter Winchell wrote to Holand which we include in full:

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My Dear Holand,

I have only just now read the account in the Norwegian American, of your lecture at the University of Christiana, and your reply to the criticisms of Hagstad on the inscription. I am struck with the similarity of the case in Norway with the early stage of the discussion in America. In both countries they cite certain evident variations from the high literary style of the date of 1362. In America these have been examined into and no longer offer stumbling blocks, in the acceptance of the record, but in Norway they have advanced no further than these linguistic stumbling blocks. Hagstad’s whole argument is about on a par with Flom’s and has no more force. It remains for some philologist in Norway (whom Hagstad seems to call a “scientist”), who has not in precipitate judgment already condemned the stone, to dispassionately and thoroughly investigate it. The repetition of the old objections which have been sufficiently removed in America, may at first blush before an audience which is not well informed on this special question, appear sufficient to disprove the inscription, and in Norway, as in America, may carry the day temporarily against the stone. But it is quite likely that, after a little time given to more detailed study by some experts, the truth will appear to be on the side of the runestone. I do not consider the result of the Norway meeting, even as reported by some of the old enemies of the stone in our American papers, as fatal, or even as seriously damaging to the stone, for the same stage of the investigation has been passed through in America.

Further, there are certain topographical and physical elements in the case, and in my judgment these weigh so strongly and fundamentally in favor of the stone that it appears to be that the little linguistic irregularities must be made to stand aside or be explained in conformity with these elements. A certain ancient king is said to have given the orders that the tide of the ocean should not advance so as to disturb him. I have no doubt that his hearers proclaimed him great and applauded his wisdom; but it is also said that the king was obliged to remove from his place or be overwhelmed by the superior force that carried the great tide. So with the runestone, as it appears to me, and as it appeared to be when I first gave attention to it, and I stated in my first paper concerning it - there are geological (physical) aspects of the question (which absolutely require that the stone’s story be correct). These are fundamental and cannot be set aside by verbal technicalities such as are, to this date, brought up to disprove it. They stand impregnable while a light combat rages about them among the scouts. When the line of battle reaches these fundamental truths they will assert their power. No one has, as yet, attacked those important bulwarks of the rune stone. They are discussed in the report of the Museum committee of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Still, even as the discussion now stands the .... technical linguistic difficulties are apparently removed by your dignified reply to Prof. Hagstad published in the same number of the Norwegian American. The only lingering uncertainty lies in the word opdagelse. - i.e. whether it could have existed in 1362 under the primitive form opdage, else being a terminational and unobjectionable suffix.

The elementary state of the discussion in Norway is amusing and at the same time vexing, because it goes out to the “Verdict of Norway.” On the contrary it is only the loud blast of the first onset of the opponents of the stone who, having already announced their views (viz. Bugge and Hagstad), make a show of bravery in standing by their posts. The same took place in America, where similar loud blasts were found to consist almost wholly of noise, and gave the stone more help than harm once the smoke blew away.

Again, it is quite amusing to read of Hagstad’s statement that the stone is composed of a soft material. On the contrary, it is harder than granite, standing next to pure quartzite in hardness. It is also ... sophomoric in Prof. Hagstad’s address, in the first instance to scout “flowery discourses and flights into the speculation” and in the next instance to say that all he seeks is “The Path of Truth.” Thus impugning the contrary to the adherents of the stone. But the adherents of the stone are as fond of the truth and as adverse to flowery discourses as he can be, and they might, perhaps, with more justice accuse him of the very same faults, for he has not always fairly presented the truth, and has himself resorted to flowery language with all its stealthy sting.

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When one reads these words by Winchell it is apparent what a brilliant man he was and why no-one was ever able to refute his conclusions. This ended the early period of the Kensington Rune Stone's history which was a flurry of claims and refutations. The next period in the stone’s history was much quieter and with fewer major events. It was highlighted by Holand’s tireless advocacy of the stone’s authenticity and the publication of his books.

1914 - Prof. Winchell dies at age 75. Olof Ohman returns from his trip to Sweden aboard the later famous ship Lusitania.

1916 - Warren Upham of the Minnesota Historical Society visits the Ohman farm and leaves convinced that Ohman is honest and the stone is genuine. He attempts to persuade the society to negotiate again to buy the rune stone from Holand, but nothing comes of it.

1923 - Holand writes to Ohman and says he will pay him 10% of whatever he gets should he sell the rune stone. Remember that at this point, Ohman does not consider the stone to be Holand’s property, and even though Holand is a great supporter of the stone, there is much tension between them.

1927 - A movement is begun to build a 204 foot monument at the site where the KRS was discovered. The project cost is estimated at $300,000 (approx $5 million today). There is much excitement and several large rallies, but the monument is never built. Ironically, the small monument that was built much later was placed on the wrong site. The actual discovery site is 40-50 feet away and is totally unmarked.

1932 - Hjalmar Holand’s first book on the stone, “The Kensington Stone,” is published.

1934 - Holand’s home in Wisconsin burns to the ground and all of his notes, documents and photos regarding the rune stone are lost. We can never know what may have been lost that Holand had, perhaps, not noted as significant.

1935 August 27 - Olof Ohman dies at his home at age 80.

1940 - Holand publishes his second book, “Westward From Vinland.”

1946 - Holand publishes his third book, “America 1355-1364: A New Chapter In Pre-Columbian History.”

1948 - The Kensington Rune Stone is displayed at The Smithsonian Institution and regarded as authentic. It remains on display for one year.

1948 - Edward Ohman, who was a lad with his father when the stone was discovered and is the one who first noticed the runes, gives an interview in which he dispels the notion that the stone was ever used as a doorstop. He also says that he pounded an iron rod into the ground at the discovery site and hopes that a stone marker can one day be erected.

1949 - Dr. M.W. Stirling, Director of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution comments that, “The Kensington Rune Stone is probably the most important archeological object yet found in North America.”

This marks the peak of the stone’s rise to legitimacy, and begins another period of decline:

1949 - J.A. Holvik, a Linguistics professor at a Minnesota college, visits the Ohman farm and Amanda Ohman loans him a family scrapbook and another book. The following week, Holvik publishes a newspaper story in which he declares the rune stone was blank when it came out of the ground and was carved later. Amanda Ohman returns a $5 check to Holvik saying she does not want to sell the book she was only loaning it to him and she requests he return it. Later that fall, Willie Sarsland, an Ohman neighbor, reads that same article and writes a letter to the Minnesota Historical Society saying that he was present just afte the discovery and helped clean the stone off and saw the inscription.

1950-51 - Edward Ohman twice wrote to Holvik asking that the book be returned, it was not. Edward dies in December 1950. The following April Amanda hangs herself at the farm. Erik Moltke, a Swedish archeologist, writes a series of articles attacking the inscription as a fraud.

1952 - Erik Wahlgren, who will become the stone’s principal antagonist during this period, writes to Holvik asking about the books Amanda Ohman had given him. Soon after he publishes a paper highly critical of the rune stone, but none of his arguments are regarded as valid today. Over and over we see the pattern of Linguists attacking the stone, only to inevitably be discredited later.

1956 - Holand publishes his fourth book, “Exploration in America Before Columbus.”

1958 - Wahlgren publishes a book that is a strong denouncement of the stone’s authenticity. Also during this period, Wahlgren begins correspondence with Theodore Blegen, a history professor in Minnesota.

1965 - Through this period the Walgren book has held sway and the public generally regards the stone to be a hoax. “The Minnesota Archeologist” publishes of favorable review of the book.

1972-1975 - The “Deathbed Confession”

As strange as the events that had swirled around the rune stone till now had been, it got even stranger. Walter Gran was the son of John Gran who lived at Kensington. Walter claimed in an interview that his father, while dying, had told him that the rune stone was a fake and that he and Olof Ohman had carved the inscription. Even though no-one around Kensington believed Gran and everyone spoke of his tendency to “exaggerate,” the story caught on. A subsequent interview with Gran showed him to not have a coherent story. A jury would never have bought it, but there was no jury. The rune stone and Olof were convicted of fraud without a trial. The “deathbed confession” suited the anti-stone atmosphere of the times and fit the template of hoax that the hungry media had adopted.

During the same period, Theodore Blegen published his book, “The Kensington Rune Stone: New Light On An Old Riddle.” Blegen also said Olof had carved the stone. It seemed not to mattter that Blegen’s version of who had done what contradicted Gran’s, both were regarded as correct and the rune stone’s fortunes seemed as dim as ever.

1981 - Interviews are conducted with eight elderly Kensington residents who knew Olof, Gran and others who were at the discovery. All of them said they did not believe Gran’s claim that his father had admitted carving the stone with Ohman. They all said the regarded Olof as too honest to have been involved in a hoax.

1982 - Things look up (again) for the stone as Robert A. Hall, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, Cornell University, published a book, “The Kensington Rune Stone Is Genuine.”

1986 - Inspired by Hall’s book, Richard Nielsen begins a series of papers that culminated in his 2005 book with Scott Wolter.

1994 - Robert Hall published his second book, “The Kensington Rune Stone: Authentic and Important.” Hall acknowledges the assistance of Richard Nielsen and Rolf Nilsestuen on parts of the book. Nilsestuen publishes his own book favorable to the stone later the same year.

2000 - The Smithsonian Institution publishes a book, “Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga,” in which one chapter has three pages claiming the KRS to be a hoax. That summer, The New England Antiquities Research Association’s journal published an article by Michael Zalar that documented 37 factual errors in the Smithsonian’s book, including an apparently deliberate attempt to mischaracterize Prof. Winchell’s report on the weathering of the inscription.

2000 - July - The rune stone is brought to American Petrographic Services for the first time and examined by Scott Wolter. He convened a panel of prominent geologists to examine the stone and jointly design and agree upon a methodology for the evaluation of the stone. This work was not only peer reviewed after it was complete but at the study design phase. There was no disagreement on the panel either on the approach to be taken or on the results when they were completed. This stands in sharp contrast to other studies that have not been reviewed at all.

2000 - November - Part of Wolter’s team plus Nielsen, archeologist Alice Kehoe and others make a presentation and conclude that the study has confirmed the work of Winchell - that the carvings are at least several hundred years old.

2001-2002 - Scott Wolter issues a report in which one conclusion reads: “It is clear that the four man-made fracture surface types on the Kensington Rune Stone exhibit weathering (primarily mica degradation) consistent with being buried in the ground for at least decades and probably centuries. This being the case, the logical conclusion is that the Kensington Rune Stone is an authentic artifact, presumable made at the time it is dated (1362 A.D.).”

Multiple papers are published and presentations are given on both the geology and linguistics of the stone proclaiming it authentic.

2003 - Scott Wolter conducted a study to compare the weathering of the rune stone to other similar stones exposed to similar climate for a known period in order to deduce an age. Tombstones of slate in Maine that were approximately 200 years old were selected. Samples were taken with permission and studied. The carvings on the tombstones did not have complete mica deterioration and the rune stone did. This made it possible to conclude that the rune stone was carved more than 200 years ago. This of course, rules out any any hoax and any conclusion other than the rune stone is an artifact of pre-Columbian European contact.

2004-2005 - The rune stone travels to Sweden and the Ohman family begins to speak out. Scholars begin to line up to proclaim that Olof did not carve the stone.

Scott Wolter makes two trips to the Swedish island of Gotland to photograph medieval grave slabs and churches where runic inscriptions reveal words and characters similar to those on the rune stone.

The book, The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence is published.

2009 - Scott Wolter publishes, “The Hooked X” and the movie “Holy Grail in America” airs on the History Channel.

One cannot read through this brief history without getting a sense of how many times history has repeated itself regarding the stone. Runologists make claims of hoax, their claims are refuted. The new geology studies confirm what Winchell told us nearly 100 years ago. Some of the key historical documents are reproduced on the following page.

History

Ohman Family

Geology

Current KRS Issues

Conclusions

News, Articles & Documents

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