Monthly Archives: August 2011

Midwest Vikings? Part 3

You could say that this post is another primer post. It is selections from my paper (see previous post, S.C.H Part 2) that concern the Kensington Rune Stone.

Pseudoarchaeology and Identity

A Study in North American Vikings (Selections)

The story of the Kensington spans many years and involves numerous characters. However, the chief character in this story is a Swedish-born man named Olaf Ohman. He owned a farm east of Kensington. One day in 1898 he came across a large stone in the roots of a tree. Nine years later, a man named Hjalmer Holland a graduate from the University of Wisconsin, heard of the stone and came to translate it. Here is his translation: “8 Goths and 22 Norwegians on exploration journey from Vinland over the west. We camp by 2 skerries one day-journey from this stone. We were and fished one day. After we came home, 10 men red with blood and tortured. Hail Virgin Mary, save from evil. Have 10 men by the sea to look after our ship, 14 day -journeys from this island year 1362.” (Story of the Kensington Rune Stone.) The source of this information leans towards the authenticity of the stone, but others sources corroborate the translation in more or less the same form.

Many scholars argue that the Kensington Stone is a hoax. Haywood claims that the language of the stone (written in runes) is a distinctive Swedish-Norwegian dialect spoken by settlers in Minnesota in the 1890’s. He also argues “Though some die-hard romantics still believe the stone to be genuine, academics quickly recognized it as a forgery, presumably made by local Scandinavian settlers, either as a joke or for reasons of ethnic prestige.” (Haywood, 111.) The idea of “ethnic prestige” mentioned is an important one and thus leads me to my next point.

Continuing with the idea of ethnic prestige, I wish to argue another point. Hoax or not, the Kensington Rune Stone has taken on a life on its own since it turned up in 1898. It has become an important point of identity for the community in which it was found. To support this point, I first point out the fact that a Swedish immigrant originally uncovered the stone on his farm. Now why is it that a Scandinavian farmer (Sweden being part of Scandinavia) of all people, would happen to find a Viking (Scandinavian) artifact? If it truly was a chance event, why an artifact from Scandinavia?

As these questions are not answers in themselves, I offer more evidence to support my claim. According to numerous sources (Immigration, Davidson) Scandinavian immigrants settled for the most part in Minnesota and Wisconsin during the 19th century. It is a curious thing that such an artifact as the Kensington Rune Stone would appear not only to a Swedish farmer, but in a Scandinavian community as well. It is significant that even as recent as 2000 that the census bureau found that roughly 38.7% (30% Norwegian and 8.7 Swedish) of the Kensington population claimed Scandinavian decent. (Kensington 2000 Census.)

To further strengthen my claim, I turn now to the article “Folk Archaeology in Anthropological Perspective” by Michael Michlovic. In this article Michlovic argues that what he calls “folk archaeology” is different from what may be called pseudoarchaeology. While folk archaeology may not be sanctioned by academia, it does serve a cultural purpose. To illustrate his point, he draws attention to the widespread belief that 14th century Vikings explored and perhaps even settled the area. He argues that the Viking legend lacks substantial scientific and historic support, but belief in Vikings is maintained by much deeper cultural processes than authenticity alone. (Michlovic, 104.) Micholovic says it best himself” The Kensington Runestone is a hoax, but to attribute belief in it to lack of education, ethnocentrism, or racism is to miss its central anthropological significance. The broadest and most obvious reason for the durability of the Viking legend is that it took root in a Scandinavian community that was proud of its heritage.” (Michlovic, 105)

Michlovic cites a poll by the Minneapolis Tribune that showed that 60% of the population surveyed believed in the Viking legend. (Michlovic, 105) Authentic or not, artifacts such as the rune stone are markers of ethnic pride. In fact Michlovic claims that a park was constructed near the stone’s current location at Alexandria,Minnesota that is visited by tourists. Also of note is the fact the museum itself has an entire room that offers supporting evidence for the Viking exploration of North America. (The Rune Stone Museum.) As some final examples tying the Kensington Stone to identity (and tourism) is the presence of Big Ole’,a twenty eight foot statue of a Viking that says “birthplace ofAmerica” on his shield. (Road Side America.) On the site in which the rune stone was found there now exists the Runestone Park. The park now consists of 170 acres on which stands the original Ohman farmstead. Also moved to this site was the first jail and railroad depot was moved to the park. At the alleged site where the Kensington Stone was originally found there is a plaque that has the translation upon it. In the park the Minnesota, Norwegian and Swedish flags are flown daily. (The Story of the Kensington Rune Stone.)

Sources:

– Davidson, Clifford. Norwegians in Michigan. Michigan State University Press. 2010

– Immigration: http://memory.loc.gov/learn//features/immig/scandinavian2.html

– Kensington 2000 Census: http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/QTTable?_bm=y&-qr_name=DEC_2000_SF3_U_QTP13&-geo_id=16000US2732768&-ds_name=DEC_2000_SF3_U&-redoLog=false

– The Story of the Kensington Rune Stone: http://kensingtonmn.com/runestonepg.html

– Road Side America: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/19491)

– Haywood, John. Encyclopedia of the Viking Age. Thames & Hudson: NY. 2000

– Michlovic, Michael. “Folk Archaeology in Anthropological Perspective.” From the Journal of Current Anthropology. Vol. 31. Number 1. 1990


Midwest Vikings? Part 2

So I got the Sodder’s books, Michigan’s Prehistory Mysteries I and II. However, I am not quite ready to do a post on these sources yet. As I was reading through them, I noticed there was a lot of references to other Scandinavian related topics. This being this case, I feel it necessary to create a bit of a primer, so that readers of this blog will have a better understanding of the Scandinavian culture heritage in the Great Lakes Region.

So, as a bit of an introduction, here are some passages from a paper I wrote from one of my classes. I have included the abstract to provide some greater context to the paper as a whole. These are selections only, so keep that in mind.

Abstract

            Much has been said concerning the authenticity of artifacts. Is it a hoax, is it not a hoax? The debates seem to be endless. Also there has been much discussion concerning the motives behind forgeries, often money or fame. However, through all my studies I have found that there is often little discussion concerning ethnic or cultural heritage. When such things are discussed, they are often under negative connotations such as “nationalist” or “ethnocentric” practices. I offer a new look deeper into the true nature of selected artifacts that examines what the artifacts mean to people, as opposed to simply whether or not they are “authentic”. This paper is concerned with the connections between artifacts and identity, people and objects, regardless of authenticity.

Pseudoarchaeology and Identity

A Study in North American Vikings (Selections)

            Numerous Viking artifacts have surfaced in North America over the years. Outside of the area of L’anse Aux Meadows, very few (if any) have ever been confirmed as authentic. The authenticity of such finds is often not the motivation behind such finds. There are several motives behind the “discovery” of false artifacts, the most prominent of which are fame and money. In this work, I want to examine another kind of motive that often goes unmentioned. It is my purpose to look at the motivation of identity, and how people, especially immigrants, use artifacts to connect with their past.

To further refine my topic, I must set certain boundaries on my research. I will be focusing exclusively on alleged Viking artifacts in North America. I will turn my lens on the Northeast and Great Lakes region of North America. This region stretches from L’anse Aux Meadows in Newfoundland, down the St. Laurence River and into the Great Lakes. The area of the Great Lakes region will be considered in my analysis, and this area includes Michigan,Wisconsin,Minnesota,Illinois,Ohio,Indiana,Pennsylvania,New York and Ontario.

Where does the story of Vikings in North America begin? It begins with the sagas of Erik the Red and the Greenlander’s Saga. Both of these sagas are thought to have been written in the 12th and 13th centuries. (Gathorne-Hardy, xviii.) In these sagas are detailed the stories of Erik the Red and his sons, the first Europeans (to our knowledge) to have landed upon North America. To briefly summarize the tale, Erik comes to Greenland as he had been exiled from Iceland for murder. Here, he and his followers create new settlements. A man named Bjarni, in his attempt to get to Erik’s Greenland, was blown off course. He eventually made his way back to Greenland, although he never actually landed in America. His details of the lands he saw would influence the later voyage of Leif Ericson. Leif actually landed in America, and is largely considered the first to have done so. There were several other voyages after Leif, notably Thorvald Ericson, who was killed in America. We also have information concerning a man named Karlsefni and a woman named Freydis, who was Eric’s daughter. It should be noted that the story itself is much more detailed, but at this point the above summary must suffice. (Gathorne-Hardy, 16-17.)

Aside from the sagas that detail the voyages of the Vikings, there is also one archaeological site that connects North America to Scandinavia, L’anse Aux Meadows. L’anse Aux Meadows lies at the northern point of Newfoundland and dates from about the tenth century C.E. The site was discovered in 1960 by a Norwegian husband and wife team, Helge and Anne Instad. They had studied the sagas of Greenland and Erik the Red, and they met with success. (Parks Canada.) The discovery of the site was an important step forward in the study of Vikings in North America. To this date it remains the only authenticated Nordic find on the continent. The site itself consists of eight buildings and hundreds of Viking Age artifacts. Small workshops and a forge were part of the site, suggesting it was a small settlement that repaired ships. (The Canadian Encyclopedia.) The site was only occupied for a short time due to conflicts with Native Americans. The area is a hotspot for all kinds of Norse themed attractions, including a recreated Viking trading port, where you can engage in all types of Nordic games. L’anse Aux Meadows is also at the end of the Newfoundland Viking Trail. (Viking Trail.)

From the 16th to the 18th century America was colonized by Europeans and became and independent nation. There is no doubt that many people of Scandinavian decent (most by the way of England) came to America in this time, but the most significant Scandinavian immigration to America occurred in the middle of the 19th century. (Davidson, 1-7.) A large majority of these immigrants settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but there are also smaller populations in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region as well as in Canada. It is no small coincidence that in the middle of the 19th century is when one of the most well known “Viking” artifacts comes into view, the Kensington Rune Stone. (Next post, Great Lakes S.C.H Part 3)

Sources:

– Gathorne-Hardy, G.M. The Norse Discoverers of America.Oxford University Press. 1970

– Davidson, Clifford. Norwegians in Michigan. Michigan State University Press. 2010

– Viking Trail: http://vikingtrail.org/welcome.html

– Parks Canada: http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/progs/spm-whs/itm2/site1.aspx

– The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0004527