KENSINGTON STONE is either an important fourteenth-century relic or an impressive hoax. It purports to be the inscribed account of a pre-Columbian Scandinavian exploration into the Great Lakes territory of North America. The stone was supposedly discovered in Kensington, Minnesota, in 1898 by a Swedish immigrant and farmer, Olof Ohman, who claimed to have unearthed the stone on his property. The stone is an irregularly shaped rectangular slab of graywacke, a sedimentary rock, and is about two and a half feet high, three to six inches thick, and fifteen inches wide. After the stone was discovered, it was kept in a bank in Kensington until early 1899, when its existence was publicized in newspapers. The stone's symbols were then discovered to be runic and were translated into several languages. When translated into English, the inscription reads:
Eight Swedes and Twenty-two Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland westward. We had our camp by 2 rocky islets one day's journey north of this stone. We were out fishing one day. When we came home we found ten men red with blood and dead. AVM save us from evil. We have ten men by the sea to look after our ships, fourteen days' journey from this island. Year 1362.
When news of the inscription was released, it was quickly dismissed by academics at American and Scandinavian universities as a hoax or a forgery. The stone was then returned to Ohman, who claimed to use it as a door-stop until 1907, when the writer Hjalmar Rued Holand acquired the stone with the intent to prove its authenticity. Holand spent the rest of his life arguing for the legitimacy of the stone. He believed that Vikings had reached Minnesota territory in the fourteenth century and that an expedition led by Paul Knutson through Hudson Bay, Lake Winnipeg, and the Red River was the expedition that the stone chronicled. If Holand was correct, then the Norse explored wider areas of the North American continent and had enjoyed a longer era of exploration than previously supposed. Holand's theory became popular among the Scandinavian communities of Minnesota who helped perpetuate the idea of the stone's authenticity despite academic dismissal.
There has been a good deal of scholarly examination and debate surrounding the stone, and the overwhelming conclusion is that it is a forgery. This is based on the runic characters and style of inscription, which are dated by philologists and runologists as nineteenth century in style. Those who argue for the stone's authenticity find the use of "AVM," a medieval abbreviation for "Ave Maria," to be particular to the fourteenth century and most likely unknown to nineteenth-century forgers.
Although still considered by many to be a hoax and by some to be genuine artifact, the Kensington Stone is a curiosity and remains displayed at the Runestone Museum of Alexandria, Minnesota.
Blegen, Theodore Christian. The Kensington Rune Stone: New Light on an Old Riddle. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1968.
Hall, Robert Anderson. The Kensington Rune-Stone Is Genuine: Linguistic, Practical, Methodological Considerations. Columbia, S.C.: Hornbeam Press, 1982.
Williams, Stephen. Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
See alsoNorsemen in America .