By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN The Dassel History Center’s community room was packed Feb. 27 with an audience ready to hear new evidence pointing toward the authenticity of the controversial Kensington Runestone.
The presentation given by former Dassel High School teacher and retired Cornell University professor Dr. Aaron Moen of Dassel centered around whether or not the runestone was real and if Olof Ohman, the farmer who claimed to have found the stone, could have been the one to carve it.
“You will be reasonably sure, if not convinced, of the answer,” Moen told the audience, who is also a native of Kensington.
Moen presented new evidence discovered in the past 25 years by Scott Wolter, geologist and president of the American Petrographic Services, along with Dr. Richard Nielsen, who together co-authored the book “The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence” in 2006.
The large grey stone, which the Kensington farmer claimed to have found in 1898, while clearing land for planting, is carved with a runic inscription that translates:
“8 goths and 22 northmen on discovery trip from Vinland of west. We had camp by two skeeries one day’s journey north from this stone. We were to fish one day after we came home found 10 men red with blood and dead. AVM save from evil have 10 men by the sea to look after our ship 14 day travel from this island. Year 1362.”
Since the stone was dated 130 years before Christopher Columbus, there were a lot of questions and rumors that began to circulate about Ohman and the authenticity of the stone.
Moen told the audience that between 1898 and 1910, there were two very different conclusions.
One conclusion was by Newton Horace Winchell, a geologist, who analyzed the surface of the stone based on weathering effects and found it was at least 500 years old at the time.
However, runic scholars in the both the US and Scandinavia evaluated the inscription and concluded it had to be a hoax because there were runic characters used that were not known to exist at that time.
Rumors began to circulate about Ohman, including that he was a Swedish immigrant and a “queer genius.” He was also said to be a stone mason who read a book on runic characters making it that much more possible for him to have carved the stone.
In Kensington, Ohman was known as an honest and hardworking farmer and carpenter, not a stone mason, Moen said.
In 2000, the Runestone Museum in Alexandria hired Wolter to perform a laboratory analysis of the stone’s physical features. In addition, he worked with Nielsen, who has a doctor of technology degree, on the linguistics on the stone.
From his studies, Wolter again confirmed that the stone was several hundred years old, as Winchell had previously done nearly a century prior.
During Moen’s presentation, he unveiled his own cardboard replica of the Kensington Runestone to show its actual size to the audience. He also made it very clear to the audience that this particular piece was definitely not the real thing.
“This is a hoax,” Moen joked, about the replica.
In addition to the validity of the age of the stone, Moen told of two particular runic characters found in the inscription the “dotted R” and the “hooked X” that also help to point toward the stone’s validity.
These runic characters found on the stone were not known by runic scholars until in Sweden until 1935; decades after runic scholars evaluated the inscription.
He explained that these two characters were not “a slip of the chissel,” but were actually used on the island of Gothland during the late 1300s, and are explained further in Wolter’s book “The Hooked X,” released in 2009.
Moen also showed a photograph of a document written by Christopher Columbus in 1501, where the two characters where the hooked X was used, as well.
Also during his talk, Moen shared a letter found in 2006 that Ohman had writted back in 1910.
In the letter, Ohman addressed the rumors claiming he was the one who carved the stone saying he was much too busy to carve a stone, because he was occupied with his job as a carpenter.
Even years later, the rumors continued to take a toll on members of the Ohman family, Moen said.
During a trip to Stockholm in 2004, Ohman’s grandson, Darwin, was publicly apologized to by Professor Henrik Williams for the way some of the Scandinavian linguistics treated the family in the early 1900s.
Though Moen said there are still a lot of unknowns surrounding the stone, new evidence makes it clear that the stone was not carved by Ohman.
For more information about the Kensington Runestone, visit the Kensington Area Heritage Society at http://kahsoc.org.