After spending the day having Scott Wolter lecture me about why I am a basement-dwelling troll whose arrogance and close-minded bullying have only served to "harden [his] resolve" to oppose me, I'm not feeling particularly excited about spending another hour on one of Wolter's conspiracies. And yet here we are.
This episode of America Unearthed is an adaptation and expansion of chapter 4 of Scott Wolter’s 2013 book Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers, and as such it requires us to accept a great deal of Wolter’s conspiratorial thinking in order to understand the new layers of conspiracy he lays atop the old. Regular readers will remember that Wolter’s original conspiracy and claim to fame revolves around his examination of the Kensington Rune Stone, a nineteenth century carving found in Minnesota that claims to be a medieval text documenting the voyage of “8 Götalanders and 22 Northmen” who traveled west from Vinland in 1362. As most of you know, Wolter believes that the stone is genuinely medieval but rejects the plain reading of the stone’s text. Instead, based on a secret code that only he can see—involving dots punched in the stone—he has “revealed” to his own satisfaction that the stone actually is a land claim marking the Mississippi watershed as the property of the Knights Templar, who had been forcibly disbanded in 1312, following the suppression of the order in 1307.
Ultimately, the only warrant for his claim is a piece of testimony from Jean de Châlons, a Templar brother hauled before Pope Clement V and the papal court at Poitiers in June 1308. Under torture, Jean told the papal investigators that some of the Templars under Brother Gerard de Villiers had “set out to sea with eighteen galleys” the night before authorities raided the Templars in 1307. The trouble is that the word used for “galleys”--gallea—is a borrowing from the Byzantine Greek meaning a small boat with oars, not the ocean-going galleons that the term would refer to only after 1520. The Templars certainly did not row to America. Jean’s testimony is otherwise suspect since he told under torture other obvious untruths, such as his claim to have run a Templar prison where he put to death any Templar who failed to deny Christ. This text, unknown to Wolter, is not a secret. It’s in the Vatican Secret Archives in the Registra Avenionensia (48, f450r) and published (in Latin) in easily accessed books. (By the way: Don’t believe the fictitious version of the text that originated, as best I can tell, on the long-ago Mystae website sometime in the 1990s; it interpolates quite a bit of false text.)
No other text speaks of any Templar flight by sea, or any trans-Atlantic voyages at all. Similarly, there is no record of the Templars writing in runes or pretending be Norsemen.
Scott Wolter presented his Templar-land claim theory to a national TV audience in the History Channel documentary Holy Grail in America, the predecessor to America Unearthed. According to Wolter, shortly after the program aired, a man named Daryl Johnson called to tell him about a boulder located in Pine County, Minnesota, inscribed crudely with the words “Du Luth 1679.” Although most experts who have seen the stone consider the inscription a hoax, even taking it at face value would change nothing about history since Daniel Greysolon, the Sieur du Lhut, is known to have explored the area between 1678 and 1682. (In the book Wolter gives Greysolon’s title as though it were part of his given name.)
However, the Duluth stone uses an English spelling of his name, Du Luth, not found in the explorer’s extant papers, where Greysolon signed his name as “Dulhut.” That said, contemporaries of Greysolon did sometimes spell his title as “Du Luth,” alongside “du Lud,” “du Lude,” “du Lhut,” and “Dulhut.” Don’t even ask about the variations in the spelling of Greysolon. Anyway, the spelling “du Luth” became standard due to its adoption by French Canada and its successor, the Province of Quebec, in whose archives he is so styled. Greysolon’s anglicized name, Duluth, became the moniker for the Minnesota town of that name when in the 1850s George E. Nettleton read of the “Du Luth” version of the name in an English translation of a French Jesuit work about early explorers and found the name fitting. Later, J. Proctor Knott would deliver a famous speech about Duluth satirically claiming the name had a “peculiar and indescribable charm…the name for which my soul had panted for years.”
For Scott Wolter, though, the Duluth Stone is something more. Because it features small indentations that he reads as punch marks akin to those of the Kensington Rune Stone, he sees the two as connected—with the Duluth Stone marking some sort of relationship to the Templars and, of course, to the cult of Mary Magdalene. For Wolter, punch marks are symbols of the sun and an acknowledgement of God, necessarily small and crude because “carving a circle would be time consuming,” so a quick punch stands for the circle of the sun disk in occult writings.
Nowhere in Akhenaten to the Founding Fathers, though, did Wolter suggest that Greysolon was trying to take over a Templar land claim.
All of that said, this investigation into the Duluth Stone also represents something of an evolution of America Unearthed in terms of Total Brand Awareness, intentional or not. Scott Wolter’s famous backpack is provided by Duluth Trading Company, which has also been an advertiser on America Unearthed. By investigating the Duluth Stone, the show effectively integrates the brand’s name as part of the mystery, promoting it much more effectively than earlier episodes promoted personal submarines.
We open amidst rocky hills where Scott Wolter is climbing on rocks amidst floating on-screen captions asking if the French were in America on a secret mission to steal America. The opening credits roll, and we’re off to an undisclosed location near Duluth, Minnesota, that Wolter reported on in his book but doesn’t want to reveal here. Wolter gives a potted history of French North America, and as he travels on a motorcycle he tells us that the French didn’t come to America to trap fur but rather to steal other people’s land claims.
Wolter pretends to go hunting for the “recently discovered” Duluth Stone, which he wrote about in 2013 based on observations of the stone he made back in 2009. As I reported above, the stone is crudely carved. Tom Backerud, a local historian and author of the Minnesota Encyclopedia article on Greysolon, joins Wolter—without apparently having any trouble finding the site; he just walks up. Wolter and Backerund give a potted history of Greysolon’s adventures, which took him to the site of modern Duluth in 1679. Wolter chooses to refer to Greysolon (as I am calling him for clarity) as Daniel Duluth, conflating his Christian name and his title.
Wolter tells Backerund that the Duluth Stone is a land claim, and that a rock like this would therefore claim all of the land connected by rivers from the site. Wolter claims that the rock marks a land claim to the rivers flowing north and south of the continental divide running through Duluth. I have no idea why he believes that land claim stones grant ownership to all of the watersheds meeting at a continental divide (which, it ought to be realized, explorers would not have been able to map). The only references I can find to such a claim are in books written by Scott Wolter, specifically The Hooked X.
Wolter tells Backerund that the Kensington Rune Stone is also a land claim made by the Templars. Wolter claims that fifty years after Greysolon, another explorer he misnames as Pierre La Vérendrye, more properly Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Vérendrye (Wolter does not understand French titles), found yet a third stone that Wolter interprets as a land claim, and he plans to find this stone.
After an on-screen and verbal recap, Wolter tests the Duluth Stone for age and goes in search of the stone, which is known only from a secondhand 1748 account by the Swedish scientist Pehr Kalm in his Travels to North America:
At last they met with a large stone like a pillar, and in it a smaller stone was fixed, which was covered on both sides with unknown characters. This stone, which was about a foot of French measure in length, and between four and five inches broad, they broke loose, and carried to Canada with them, from whence it was sent to France, to the Secretary of State, Count de Maurepas. What became of it afterwards they know not, but think it is preserved in his collection. Several of the Jesuits who have seen and handled this stone in Canada unanimously affirm, that the letters on it are the same with those which, in the books containing accounts of Tataria, are called Tatarian characters; and on comparing both together they found them perfectly alike. Notwithstanding the questions which the French on the S. Sea expedition asked the people there, concerning the time when and by whom these pillars were erected, what their traditions and sentiments concerning them were, who wrote the characters, what was meant by them, what kind of letters they were, in what language they were written, and other circumstances, they could never get the least explication…
Wolter’s idea is that the so-called Vérendrye Runestone was purposely removed from the future United States to eliminate a Templar land claim. Wolter discusses the history of Vérendrye, and in discussing Vérendrye’s views on lost white races, Wolter reverses his earlier episode on the Mandan’s claims about Welsh Indians and concedes that they were almost certainly not white Europeans. However, he still falsely claims that Thomas Jefferson ordered Lewis and Clark to look for evidence of white colonization, particularly Welsh. No such order survive. Wolter thinks that Vérendrye, in stealing the stone, covered up Welsh colonizations.
Wolter thinks that Vérendrye sent the stone to the French Secretary of State because the Count de Maurepas was masterminding a secret mission. This is quite funny because explorers collected artifacts all the time to decorate the museums and palaces of Europe. The Habsburgs had one of the greatest collections of such artifacts, most of which are still house at the Hofburg.
The image of the so-called “Tartarian language” he implies comes from the stone is no such thing. It’s the runiform Old Hungarian alphabet, and has nothing to do with the stone, which was never seen. “Tartarian” is not a language; it was a catch-all term for anything from the northern parts of Asia, derived from old medieval terminology.
Wolter recaps his assertions, but he has failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that the stone is a land claim, or, frankly, that it existed. Wolter flies to France to visit the Church of Saint-Sulpice, associated with the Count de Maurepas. En route, he explains why he thinks the “Tartarian” characters (never recorded) are really Norse runes, though he doesn’t specify which of the many runic alphabets he means. There is more than one. The claim that the stone’s characters are Norse runes originates with Hjalmar Holand, a Kensington Rune Stone researcher who was casting about for any sort of supporting evidence to bolster his claims for that stone’s authenticity. To accept the claim is to accept that the inscription exists, that by Tartarian the Old Hungarian runiform alphabet was meant, and that no one paid much mind to which was which.
In France Wolter learns that the church was built in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and that it houses many artifacts, such as a giant sea-shell from the South Pacific. However, he learns that the French Revolution devastated the church’s collections.
After a verbal recap, Wolter is off to Alberta, to the Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, which he believes is the site where Vérendrye found the stone. (It is a reasonable possibility.) He nonsensically claims that the Tartarian inscription is really runes and therefore marks a Welsh (!) land claim. I don’t understand this since the Welsh didn’t use runes; their enemies, the Anglo-Saxons did.
At the park, Wolter sees rock art, and the geometrical forms of this rock art is a reasonable facsimile of the supposed Tartarian writing. However, Wolter reverses the conclusion and tells a member of the Blackfoot tribe that some of their rock art is likely European writing. Therefore, he tells the baffled woman that Vérendrye was trying to “steal America” from the Welsh and/or Templars. The Blackfoot park interpreter tells Wolter that Native peoples don’t believe in ownership of land. The implication she makes, of course, is that Native Americans were already living where his colonial fantasy of Europeans stealing America from other Europeans was supposedly happening.
Not that this is particularly relevant, but I noticed that the commercials this episode are largely infomercials for diet pills, credit problems, etc., and these advertisers pay the very least of all. Is there trouble at America Unearthed? It is unusual to have so many low-paying advertisements in a first-run show.
After a verbal recap, Wolter is now in South Dakota, spinning wild fantasy based on facts he failed to establish—namely, that there were pre-Columbian land claim stones, or, frankly, that post-Columbian land claim systems were in use in the High Middle Ages. This seems unlikely to me since Europeans weren’t in the habit of colonizing what they considered unoccupied territory before the exploration of North America. Wolter visits the spot where Vérendrye placed a lead plaque to claim land for France, and he takes a look at the plaque. Wolter repeats his claim that placing a stone on a continental divide lays claim to all of the land connected to every river flowing from it, though I am at a loss to understand where that idea comes from other than Wolter’s own earlier work asserting that the Kensington Rune Stone functions as a land claim because it is on such a divide.
After another set of recaps, Wolter concedes that he did not find the Vérendrye stone, though he falsely claims that the stone is documented in “historical records” rather than the truth: that it has only been hearsay in one botanist’s book. Back at his lab, Wolter tells Backerund that he examined the Duluth Stone using relative dating techniques. Because the Duluth Stone appears more weathered than century-old tombstones, it is therefore 350 years old. Wolter does not explain why Vérendrye claimed land for Louix XV but Greysolon marked land in his own name. As I said above, most experts think the stone is a fake, but finding Greysolon’s name in a place where he was known to have been is not really changing history.
Wolter shows Backerund an ant farm, and he tells the baffled historian that French explorers were like ants reporting to their queen, replacing older land claim stones with French ones. As always, even taking all of Wolter’s “facts” at face value, they fail to support his conclusions since there is no evidence whatsoever that any rock was a pre-Columbian land claim stone, of French knowledge of such claims, or of shipments of them back to France.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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