Swedish-American Myth – The Kensington Stone Posted by Marcus Cederström on Apr 10, 2012 in Culture
I’m working on a degree in Scandinavian Studies and have recently found myself reading and listening to a lot of things about the Kensington Stone. In fact, I just recently heard a talk by Anders Lundt Hansen, a Danish historian and NGO worker, discussing the stone and was inspired to do a quick write-up. The Kensington Stone, depending on who you ask, it is proof that Scandinavians managed to make their way deep into what is now the United States long before any other European group, or it is simply a hoax. An impressive one, but a hoax nonetheless.
The Kensington Stone is a rune stone that was found in 1898 in rural Minnesota by a farmer named Olof Ohlman. It is a huge stone slab that has runic inscriptions explaining that a group of 30 Scandinavian explorers were in the area in 1362. The stone explains a little bit more about what happened to the explorers (ten died for example), but does not tell us exactly who wrote this stone.
So what’s the big deal? It’s pretty well documented that Scandinavians did make it to North America during the Viking Age. But the Viking Age ended around 1066. This was 1362. Still quite some time before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. This gives some sort of claim to Scandinavian Americans that their ancestors in one form or another were here first. For better or worse.
The big deal though is that the stone, as the vast majority of people and scholars will tell you, is a fake. There are plenty of reasons to think so. A few things are especially interesting. Linguistics is one of them. Once you transcribe the runic letters to Latin letters, you’ll probably be able to read what the text says. That’s problematic because the language that was used in the 1300s was not the same that was used in the 1800s when the stone was discovered. Unfortunately, the language that is used on the stone is quite similar to 19th century Swedish. Not only that, but the runes themselves do not match up with what you would expect from the 1300s. They do however closely mirror the runes created on a note by Edward Larsson back in 1883 in northern Sweden. There is a host of other evidence suggesting it is a hoax (the style of writing, the words used, etc.), but the evidence is pretty conclusive.
I mentioned above that the stone does not mention who carved it. And that is interesting. Most rune stones that have survived include the name of the person who has carved the stone, however, it does not usually include the date. We see the exact opposite in the Kensington Stone.
So yeah, the stone is a fake. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this happened. Regardless though, it is an interesting artifact because it is a fake. It has become a sort of celebrity (as much as a stone can become a celebrity) in the Midwest and with Scandinavian Americans because it represents something. A Scandinavian-American identity that was being formed, and is still being formed today.
But what do you think? Have you heard of the stone? Does it matter that it is fake?
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