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

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

One response to “Midwest Vikings? Part 3

  • K.M.O'Sullivan

    I had of course heard of the Newfoundland site, but had not heard of the other debated artifacts around America. I agree that the focus shouldn’t always be on authentication, (although should always be considered), but also on the defining meanings of the artifacts under question.

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