The Kensington Runestone is viewed by reputable scholars as a modern fake artifact.
The Kensington Runestone is a 202-pound (92 kg) slab of greywacke stone covered in runes reportedly discovered in central Minnesota in 1898. Olof Öhman, a Swedish immigrant, reported that he unearthed it from a field in the largely rural township of Solem in Douglas County. It was later named after the nearest settlement, Kensington.The inscription purports to be a record left behind by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century (internally dated to the year 1362). There has been a drawn-out debate on the stone's authenticity, but the scholarly consensus has classified it as a 19th-century hoax since the time it was first examined in 1910, with some critics directly charging the purported discoverer Öhman with fabricating the inscription. Nevertheless there remains a community convinced of the stone's authenticity.
I have a personal bias in favor of "diffusionism" - the concept that ancient peoples spread their ideas, skills, languages, and genes more widely and successfully than is generally appreciated. Because of that bias (and my Norwegian ancestry), I have always wanted to believe in the runestone as valid. But the arguments against it from the academic community have been persistent and emphatic. One of the authoritative texts in that regard is Theodore Blegen's "The Kensington Rune Stone: New Light on an Old Riddle," published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1968. Blegen was a professor of history at Hamline and the University of Minnesota and the dean of its graduate school. His book explored in detail the circumstances of the stone's discovery and the people involved, and his conclusions that the stone is fake were based on runology, without any analysis of petrology or geology.
"The circumstances that envelop the Kensington story begin with the striking fact, hitherto little appreciated, that among the Scandinavian pioneers in Minnesota in the 1890s and earlier there were not a few persons, incluidng laymen, who well understood runes."
the inscription modern...""... a second circumstance... is that the Kensington stone was dug up on the land of a Swedish-American farmer in a Scandinavian community, in a state with a large Scandinavian population. These facts defy easy explanation.""... Turner's suggestion that the "stone could have been placed under the tree so that the roots could in a few years have clasped" the stone. Ohman spoke of the stunted appearance of the tree. One wonders what made it stunted.""The inscription is a fake. The evidence points to a hoax, with Olof Ohman as the principal originator."
The all-encompassing objection to the runestone's validity lies in the argument that "it doesn't make sense that 14th-century Scandinavians would travel to the middle of North America," and therefore the stone and its inscription are a priori fake.
Travel to North America by Vikings is a well-documented fact; extensive studies have been conducted at L'Anse aux Meadows on the shore of Newfoundland:
That site was occupied three hundred years before the date of the Kensington runestone's inscription. Could Vikings have explored up the St. Lawrence River and through the Great Lakes? Could they have entered Hudson Bay and then ventured southward to Lake Winnipeg and further?
Kensington is not located on a river. But it is located almost equidistant from three major watersheds: the Red River draining north to Hudson Bay, the Great Lakes draining east to the Atlantic, and the Mississippi draining south to the Gulf of Mexico. As such, laying claim to territory in this region would give a trader a major advantage in transporting goods to and from various cultures, and the Vikings of the 1300s were world-famous traders, not just warriors. It is neither impossible nor unreasonable for explorers to have reached central Minnesota in the 1300s. There are bills of lading for beaver furs in London for the period 1380-1420. These furs arrived in Basque ships baled in the Canadian fashion (as opposed to being packed in barrels as Russian beaver pelts were). Whether the runestone is evidence of visitors to the mid-continent or not must be based on the stone itself.
That is the purpose of the book illustrated at the top. The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence was published in 2006 to bring together all available evidence about the stone and its runes. I found it to be a fascinating read.
Consider the inscribed runes. There have been objections since day one that there is evidence of recent scratching in some of the grooves. That is not disputed. The family who unearthed the stone said at the time that they had used nails to scrape dirt out of some grooves so they could try to read the runes; these scratches are not evidence of fakery. What is new since the publication of Blegen's book are the results of scanning electron microscopy of the stone (Blegen specifically ignored petrological and geological findings re the stone in the 1940s). The images (reproduced in the Nielsen/Wolter book) show that the biotite mica grains on the surface of the native stone and in the unscratched grooves of the runes show similar weathering, indicating that the unscratched grooves are at least 200 years old (similar to the weathering of mica in 200-year-old gravestones in colonial New England cemeteries), so nobody living in the late 19th century could have been involved in a hoax re carving the runes. This weathering is not present on a known fake runestone (the "AVM stone") which was carved at about this same time. [This doesn't eliminate the possibility of the runes on the stone having been carved by explorers (fur traders, soldiers etc.) centuries ago, pre-statehood.]
Another suggestion that the stone could have been inscribed in medieval times comes from a rune called "the dotted R." There are two of them on the stone. The "dotted R" rune was not known to science in 1898, when the Kensington Stone was unearthed. Many of the early efforts to debunk the stone (cited in the Blegen book) emphasize that there are runes on the stone which "do not exist" and must have been made in error by this Minnesota farmer. No runologist or other Scandinavian scholar had ever seen a "dotted R" and it was not in any books, so it could not have been copied. This "dotted R" ("palatal R" pronunciation) was in use on Gotland during the last half of the 1300s.
Additional evidence against Olof Ohman (the discoverer) having forged the runes is that he wrote his personal correspondence using the Swedish "A dialect" with words ending in "a" ("dissa" for "this") while the runes are written in the "E dialect" ("fiske" rather than "fiska.") In one of his personal books he has written the words "dod" for "death" and "resor" for "travel," while on the stone are the words "ded" for "death" and "rise" for "travel."
So, here's a rune that was in use in Sweden (and Gotland) in the 13th and 14th century but was not known to anyone until 40 years after the Kensington Stone was unearthed. If any readers have newer information on this subject, please chime in in the comments.
One aspect of the Kensington runestone that troubles me is my feeling that a group of explorers/traders of the 14th century would not have been so upset by a slaughter of some comrades that they would have carved the event in runes; more likely IMHO they would have said "too bad about Sven and Ole. Let's move on."
The Nielsen/Wolter book has extensive details on the mineralogy of the rock and on runology and ancient and modern Swedish dialects. The book unfortunately fails in not having had a proper proofreading re English spelling and grammar ("slight of hand," "aggitatedly," "whomever carved the stone," "emmigrates," etc) but those are cosmetic rather than substantive faults. And the efforts to tie some of the runes to Templars and Teutonic knights seems contrived and unnecessary.
I would be delighted to hear informed commentary from readers of this blog who may have expertise or information relevant to this topic.
Addendum: A tip of the blogging hat to reader Fester, for locating this video (by a professor of Norse language) that effectively demolishes the idea that the runestone dates to the 14th century. The language depicted on the stone is consistent with a 19th-century creation.