If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you are undoubtedly familiar with the legend of the Kensington Runestone, a rune-covered stone unearthed in the nineteenth century in Minnesota and alleged to be a record of a Norse expedition from Vinland to the interior of North America in the mid-1300s. Since the stone’s exhumation in 1898, a debate has raged between true believers on one hand and scientists and historians on the other over the stone’s authenticity. Mainstream opinion holds that the stone is a hoax carved in the 1800s, likely as part of an effort by Scandinavian immigrants to lay historic claim to the new land where they found themselves living. Fringe opinion believes it to be an authentic medieval record, with the most complex evaluation offered by former television personality Scott F. Wolter, who sees the stone as the cornerstone (so to speak) of a vast conspiracy by Knights Templar, Cistercian monks, and Freemasons to claim nearly all of North America as the hereditary kingdom of Jesus’ descendants through Mary Magdalene
The crux of the argument centers on the unusual form of the runes used on the rune stone, including the infamous “Hooked X®,” more accurately a variant of the rune for “A” in which an extra line is attached as a branch on one of the staves of the X-shaped rune. The non-standard forms and unusual grammar have resulted in an argument between those who claim them to be evidence of a hoax and those who have searched far and wide for medieval precedent for forms that were, for most of their existence, otherwise unattested in scholarly literature.
Now the official blog of the Swedish National Heritage Board has surprising new evidence that confirms the hypothesis that the unusual and non-standard runes found on the Kensington Rune Stone are in fact of nineteenth century vintage, or at any rate not the runes used by medieval French knights.
On Sunday, runologist Magnus Källström presented his research into an odd bit of Swedish history and its impact on our understanding of the Kensington Rune Stone. I do not speak Swedish, so you will forgive me if I have relied on Google Translate and a dictionary to help understand Källström’s findings, which so far as I know have not yet been translated in or published in English.
It’s important to note that the information below hasn’t yet been formally published in an academic journal, and so far as I know, other scholars have not yet weighed in on it. The information is fascinating, but as of now it is still speculative. More information and research will be needed to establish a firm connection to the Kensington Runestone.
Källström reports that he came across an unusual 1942 newspaper article that seemed to depict the same variant runes that we find on the Kensington Runestone. The article stated that the runes were located in the central Swedish province of Medelpad in the town of Haverö, and it called these the “Haverö runes.” According to the article, Sweden’s then-greatest rune expert of the era Otto von Friesen, a professor in Uppsala, declared that the script was unknown to him, though it resembled some other forms of runic writing he had seen in some regards. Källström was struck by the fact, unnoticed by von Friesen, that the runes were identical to those on the Kensington Runestone, including the infamous “Hooked X.”
Källström leapt to his phone and called the local authorities to try to find the inscription that the 1942 reporter had seen, and sure enough it still exists, on a wooden rod. Källström wasn’t able to get out to see it himself until October of this year, his last opportunity to do so before—and this is a charmingly Swedish detail—winter made them inaccessible for six months due to snow and ice. Upon examining the wooden artifacts, Källström found that they contained not just identical runes to those on the Kensington Runsetone but also characters in a similar style representing letters not used on the Kensington inscription. He later discovered that other local runic alphabets were highly similar but with minor differences, as you would expect when a style is localized in many different, largely isolated rural locations.
The kicker is that Källström found that some of the inscriptions recorded information in an old Swedish standard of measurement that ceased to be used after 1888, meaning that the inscription must have predated the government mandate to change measuring systems. This prompted him to look for evidence that the largely unattested writing system was in use before the Kensington Runestone was unearthed. He learned that Nils Månsson Mandelgren had found it being used as a cypher code in 1869. But there was more:
A variant of the same cipher was also found in Møre in Norway during the 19th century. According to an article in the Norwegian Agricultural Bulletin in 1811, it was referred to as “the Møre alphabet” and would have been used in the area for at least half a century. Even the Icelanders who collected information on different types of runic alphabets in the 19th century recorded this cipher, but instead called it grindaletu
Having established that the Møre Alphabet (det mørske alfabet) predates the Kensington Runestone, the question to address is why it had not come to scholarly attention. His answer is admirably simple, based on the ethnographic record: The text was used by children and young adults as a play code:
Probably this is a secret written language that was created and spread by a certain group of people. It has previously been suggested that they were migrant craftsmen, but also that it may be something that had already been learned in childhood, and which may have been used primarily among children. Runologist Jan Ragnar Hagland has given several examples of the latter from Norway in the 19th century.
The conclusion therefore is that the man who faked the Kensington Runestone used his childhood knowledge of runes. Källström goes into much more detail that I am either interested in or could entirely follow, and explained some slight discrepancies with recourse to various other sources of information available to a faker. Based on this information and the appearance of a closely related, though not identical, cypher among the Larsson papers, Källström suggests that Anders Andersson faked the Runestone since he was originally from Linsell in the same central region as this newly rediscovered alphabet and had the opportunity to have learned this local peasant alphabet.
“Of course, this is certainly not a definitive solution to the Kensington problem, but I am convinced that we are homing in on the origins of the Kensington Runestone, and that it is to be sought in a somewhat more northerly sphere than it has been up to now,” Källström concludes.
A true believer might argue that the “secret” alphabet in use in the nineteenth century is a survival of a medieval original, but the lack of evidence from medieval times combined with the growing body of evidence that the unusual runes of the Kensington Runestone were familiar to the type of lower class immigrants who left Sweden for America at just the time when the stone came out of the ground is powerful circumstantial evidence that the Runestone is a fake
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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