Column - Runestone book erases many doubtsTo this day, people who learn I worked in Alexandria for years will ask me what I think of “that Viking stone up there.” They mean, of course, the Kensington Runestone.
By: Dennis Dalman, Alexandria Echo Press
To this day, people who learn I worked in Alexandria for years will ask me what I think of “that Viking stone up there.” They mean, of course, the Kensington Runestone.
I always tell them I’m just not sure if it’s the genuine article. I’ve wavered on that for the past 30 years. I can’t count the number of books, magazine articles and scholarly papers I’ve read about the “Stone.”
But I always tell people that if it’s not the real thing, then it’s the greatest hoax of all time, along with the Shroud of Turin. It’s a great hoax because it is virtually impossible to disprove. It will go on mystifying and maddening people for centuries.
I just finished reading a new book that claims the Kensington Runestone is genuine. Written by the father-daughter team of Robert C. Johnson and Janey Westin, the book is entitled The Last Kings of Norse America: Runestone Keys to a Lost Empire. Note the clever title.
Westin and Johnson, who live in the Twin Cities, are not quacks. They are impeccable scholars with no particular axe to grind. Westin is a professional sculptor and stone carver. Johnson is a professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Both had been intrigued for many years by the mysterious slab of stone. In 2001, their years of mutual research began. Their book is an interesting glimpse into medieval Scandinavian history and culture as well as a technical, in-depth examination of runic inscriptions.
They are convinced, based on historical and linguistic evidence, that the stone is proof a Norse expedition reached what is now the Kensington area in 1362. The purpose of the expedition, commissioned by King Magnus, was to reactivate the fur trade. A secondary goal was to help spread Christianity.
Johnson and Westin also claim a “Spirit Stone” found in Maine in 1971 is a kind of companion stone to the Runestone - a memorial to 17 men who died when an expedition ship sank in a storm.
According to the authors, the expedition was headed by a young king, King Haakon VII of Norway, who was the son of King Magnus (king of both Norway and Sweden). The commander of the voyage was Paul Knutson, a king’s law speaker of Norway at the time.
The book’s tantalizing evidence is compelling. It explains several “mysteries” that some skeptics have found laughable. Why would a band of Norwegians travel all that distance to a land-locked area? How did they even manage to get to the interior of Minnesota? Why in the world would an expedition stop and take the time to make inscriptions on a big rock after Native Americans had just killed 10 of their men?
Westin and Johnson answer the skeptics. First of all, the Norse were the greatest of seafarers who thought nothing of traveling thousands of miles to every kind of land on missions of discovery. Their trip to this area was via Hudson Bay, down through Winnipeg and several rivers.
Such intrepid traveling is no more far-fetched than the sailings of Columbus.
Second, the Norse were known to have memorialized anything and everything with runic inscriptions. Stone runes were such a vital part of medieval Norway and Sweden that they are the “keys” that help open up our understanding of Norse culture.
The book’s authors even claim to have located the massacre site, on the northwest shore of Big Cormorant Lake in Becker County, where mooring stones were found. Here is how the massacre supposedly happened: The 29 men set up camp near the shore of the lake. The next morning, 10 of the men stayed in camp repairing gear and smoking fish caught during the previous afternoon. In the meantime, 19 other men took boats out fishing. Late that day, they returned to their camp and to an eerie silence. There, they found the 10 men “red with blood,” all dead.
I highly recommend The Last Kings of Norse America. It’s a fascinating read, and it just might convince you. After reading it, I am far less skeptical - almost a true believer.