The Kensintone Runestone is a controversial and enigmatic piece of Minnesotan and Scandinavian heritage. The stone slab was discovered in 1898 buried under a tree on a remote Minnesotan farm in Douglas County, and was allegedly found covered in 14th century Norse runes. Since its discovery, the stone has been the centre of a series of global popular and academic arguments regarding its authenticity. There has not yet been any consensus as to whether this is a 14th century artefact or 19th century forgery – other than that it is certainly not by pre-11th century Vikings. Today, the stone can be seen in the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.
In 1898 the Swedish immigrant farmer Olof Ohman allegedly uncovered
a buried stone slab when working around an old tree with his ten year old son.
They pulled it from the earth to find it covered in more than two hundred
strange letters, first believed to have been either Native American or Greek. The
stone was examined by University of Minnesota academics, who concluded that
linguistic errors in the translated Old Norse text showed that the stone was a contemporary
hoax. Quite irked, Olof deposited it in an outhouse and for a number of years used
it to straighten out bent nails with a hammer.
In 1907 the Norwegian-born Wisconsin-based historian Hjalmar
Rued Holand purchased the stone from Olof. He embarked on a hunt for evidence
to support the stone’s authenticity as a medieval Scandinavian artefact. Three
years later, he had amassed enough support from academics for a report by the Minnesota
Historical Society to claim that the stone might, in fact, be considered
authentic. In 1948 the stone was
displayed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. Between the 1950s and 1970s
the general opinion swung the other way, as scholars renewed arguments of the
stone as a forgery made by a member of the Douglas County community. However,
from the 1980s various respected linguists and scholars have concluded that the
stone could, after all, be considered genuine. New suggestions have been
proposed over the past decade, including that of Minnesota attorney, Thomas Reiersgord,
who maintains that it could have been brought by Scandinavian explorers and monks
in the early days of the Midwest’s colonisation. Geological studies indicate
that the stone had been uncovered and weathered for at least two hundred years
before its recovery in 1898 – thus suggesting that it must have been in the
open air for at least two centuries sometime in the past.
Despite (or because of) these controversies, the stone has
acquired significant heritage value for both local Minnesotan communities and
many groups in present-day Scandinavia. New research will certainly emerge over
the coming years, and there will doubtlessly never be a single neat narrative
into which the stone fits. The farm on which it was discovered is now a park
and heritage site, with a memorial marking the location in which it was found.