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«CONCERNING THE KENSINGTON RUNE STONE When the Kensington stone was found in 1898, the credi- bility of its inscription seemed so doubtful, not only ...»

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CONCERNING THE KENSINGTON

RUNE STONE

When the Kensington stone was found in 1898, the credi-

bility of its inscription seemed so doubtful, not only because

the stone was found so far inland, but because of its contents,

that it was condemned as a fraud by all. Photographs of

the inscription were sent to many scholars both in Europe

and America. Among the chief arguments of these scholars

against Its authenticity were the following: First, the in- scription shows that the rune master was ignorant of the proper numerals and substituted a system of his own in- vention. Second, he tells of an expedition in which two national groups, Goths and Norwegians, participated — an unthinkable mixture in personnel. Third, the expedition is said to have taken place about 1362 — a time more than three hundred years removed from the known period of the early Norse voyages to America. These, and objections about linguistic and runic forms, were quite enough to con- sign the Inscription to oblivion, and for many years it lay forgotten.

But about ten years later the inscription had a resurrec- tion, and shortly after this it was conclusively shown that It was the critics — and not the inscription — who were in error about the three objections cited above. They have not since been presented against it. In like manner other objections were met, and the belief in the truth of the in- scription has been gaining ground. In 1932 my book on the Kensington stone was published. It met with a kind reception; nearly all the fifty-odd reviews, in fact, expressed views favorable to the authenticity of the inscription. The two prominent exceptions have been Dr. M. M. Quaife's article, " T h e Myth of the Kensington Rune Stone," In the New England Quarterly for December, 1934, which was 166 1936 C O N C E R N I N G T H E K E N S I N G T O N R U N E STONE 167 answered by the present writer in the following issue, and Professor L. M. Larson's paper, " T h e Kensington Rune Stone," In MINNESOTA HISTORY for March, 1936. In this latest attack there is nothing particularly new, save that Professor Larson ventures to fix the early eighties as the time when the alleged fraud was perpetrated. He thinks that the stone may " have been shoved in under a growing tree that was old enough to endure a little tampering with its roots." ^ But in presenting this theory he forgets that In such case there would be no weathering of the Inscription whatever, since the inscribed characters would not be exposed to the air. He shuts his eyes to the unchallenged testimony of a number of geologists who declare that the weathering of the Inscription shows that It was chiseled long before Minnesota was settled by white men. The stone was on exhibition in St. Paul, Madison, Chicago, Rouen, France, and Oslo, Nor- way, and was inspected by numerous geologists. Not one of them has expressed the opinion that it was recently carved. Inasmuch as there seems to be no known artificial way of producing weathering of stone, the inability of these geologists to find evidence of recent origin Is highly significant. In 1909 and 1910, when the controversy concerning the stone was at its height, the stone lay on a table in the oflice of the Minnesota Historical Society's archaeologist.

Professor Newton H. Winchell, a geologist of more than national fame. He and Dr. Warren Upham, another geologist of national distinction, had the stone in their keeping for more than a year and examined It most thoroughly.

Winchell discusses the weathering of the inscription with much detail In a report submitted to the Minnesota Historical Society, and he comes to the conclusion that the inscription may be five hundred years old.^ This report was conSee ante, p. 22, 37.

' " T h e Kensington Rune Stone," in Minnesota Historical Collections, 15: 233-237; " N e w t o n Horace Winchell," in Minnesota Historical Collections, 15:828.

168 HJALMAR R. HOLAND JUNE curred in and signed by D r. U p h a m and the other members

of the investigating committee. U p h a m also wrote the following statement for publication:

When we compare the excellent preservation of the glacial scratches shown on the back of the stone, which were made several thousand years ago, with the mellow, time-worn appearance of the face of the inscription, the conclusion is inevitable that this inscription must have been carved many hundred years ago.* Professor W. O. Hotchkiss, state geologist of Wisconsin and later president of the Michigan school of mines, wrote

in 1 9 1 0 :

I have carefully examined the various phases of weathering on the Kensington stone, and, with all respect for the opinions of philologists, I am persuaded that the inscription cannot have been made in recent years. It must have been made at least fifty to a hundred years ago and perhaps earlier.* W e have another unsolicited testimony from the late Professor O. E. H a g e n, who for many years gave intensive study to cuneiform Inscriptions. These writings traced on small bricks are often counterfeited for commercial purposes, which calls for special attention to the patina and weathering of the inscription. In his study of epigraphic characteristics, H a g e n developed high skill, which makes his observations on the physical phases of the Kensington inscription of special value. In a brief report on the Kensington stone, he has the following to say of the age of the





inscription:

In epigraphic respects I find in the inscription no evidence that it is anything except what it purports to be. I worked over the stone for a whole day under different kinds of light and found the runes on the whole to be what I looked for from that time and the people that are mentioned in the inscription.^ ° First published in Hjalmar R. Holand, " First Authoritative Investigation of ' Oldest Native Document in America,' " in Journal of American History, 4: 180 (second quarter, 1910).

* Statement given to Professor Winchell and mentioned in Minnesota Historical Collections, 15: 236.

"See complete statement in Reform (Eau Claire, Wisconsin), April 29, 1926. For further particulars, see Hjalmar R. Holand, The Kensington Stone, 57-59 (Ephraim, Wisconsin, 1932).

1936 C O N C E R N I N G T H E K E N S I N G T O N R U N E STONE 169 This unanimous testimony of geologists and archaeologists would seem to be almost conclusive evidence of the authenticity of the inscription. Yet Professor Larson does not so much as allude to the whole question of weathering save to dismiss It as " distinctly of minor significance." Such a cavalier disposal of perhaps the most vital line of Inquiry regarding the stone, at the very beginning of his article, hardly conduces. It would seem, toward respect for Professor Larson's line of argumentation on other points. But his arguments may be taken up briefly in the order of presentation.

1. Professor Larson is disposed to reject the entire evidence concerning the age of the tree underneath which the stone was found. He gives two reasons. The first is that " since no one had taken the trouble to measure the girth of the tree, there was nothing definite to remember." This objection will scarcely commend itself to his readers. The discovery of this stone was an extraordinary event in the lives of its finders, and it is reasonable to suppose that they would retain a sort of photographic impression of the stone and the tree in their minds. Dr. Knut Hoegh questioned each of the five witnesses separately to learn what this impression was. Two of the witnesses stated that the tree was "about 10 inches" in diameter at the base, while the other three said it was from " 8 to 10 inches." ® When five witnesses separately agree so closely, there seems to be no reason for rejecting their testimony. These witnesses were all men of good character who apparently had nothing to gain by distorting the truth.

Professor Larson's second reason for rejecting the evidence concerning the tree is a statement made by Professor George T. Flom that Samuel Olson, one of the witnesses, "Larson, ante, p. 21-23; Holand, Kensington Stone, 40. Dr. Hoegh describes most favorably the trustworthy character of these witnesses.

See his "Kensington og Elbow Lake stenene," in Symra: en aarbog for norske paa begge sider af havet, 5: 184—187 (Decorah, Iowa, 1909), 170 HJALMAR R. H O L A N D JUNE had told him that the tree was four inches in diameter.

This is a rather weak objection, for Flom has no signed statement or aflidavit to support his claim. When Olson was shown this report by Flom, he indignantly repudiated the assertion.'^ It would seem that Professor Flom made his investigation in a rather desultory manner. Thus, he apparently made no attempt to interview a variety of witnesses and check their statements one against another. His report on what was said by Olson is invalidated by Olson's later repudiation. Professor Flom spoke also with Olof Ohman, who conducted him to the place where the stone was found and pointed to a tree of approximately the right size. Instead of measuring it and obtaining a signed statement, Flom merely guessed that it was seven or eight inches thick. Such a slipshod Inquiry is hardly of much value in a scientific Investigation. Furthermore, there seems to be no reason for rejecting the testimony of the other four witnesses because of Flom's hearsay report about the fifth.

The most that an exacting judge could demand would be that both Flom's and Olson's testimony be rejected because of their disagreement. This leaves four separate testimonies which stand unchallenged and agree in substance about the size of the tree.®

2. Professor Larson uses considerable space in attempting to show that the explorers of 1362 could not have entered Minnesota by way of Hudson Bay because of the danger of starvation and scurvy in wintering on the shores of that bay. He cites the sad fate of Captain Jens Munk and his crew as proof. But it cannot be denied that scores, perhaps hundreds, of vessels have wintered there. Radisson mentions several vessels wintering there as early as 1680.

' Olson's signed statements are printed in Holand, Kensington Stone, 292, and in Minnesota Historical Collections, 15:222-224.

' See Holand, Kensington Stone, 37-46, for an estimate of the probable age of the tree, based on tabulations compiled by the United States forest service from the annual rate of growth of hundreds of specimens examined. The result is about seventy years.

1936 C O N C E R N I N G T H E K E N S I N G T O N R U N E STONE 171 If Starvation and scurvy would make Paul Knutson's journey Impossible, then the same causes would frustrate the efforts of the Hudson's Bay Company, but we know they did not. The fact is, the hardships of life on the shores of Hudson Bay appear to be greatly exaggerated. Knud Rasmussen and six companions spent two winters and a summer on a small naked island in the extreme northern part of Hudson Bay, seven hundred miles north of Nelson River.

They found an abundance of game and fish and enjoyed good health. Peter Freuchen spent almost twenty years in the extreme northern end of Greenland on the seventyseventh parallel, fourteen hundred miles north of the Nelson River. As early as 1333 three Norsemen from southern Greenland spent a winter on a small island off the coast of Greenland on the seventy-third parallel and left an inscription there to prove it.* Why then should it be impossible for a company of picked men to spend a winter in the southern part of Hudson Bay, eleven hundred miles farther south ?

3. Professor Larson next discusses the difficulties of ascending the Nelson River and quotes with tacit approval a statement by Dr. Quaife that " such a journey was beyond the resources of ordinary men." ^" Shall we then conclude that these explorers of 1362 were incapable of doing what thousands of later voyageurs and fur traders have done?

From 1680 up to the present time employees of the Hudson's Bay Company have been going up and down the Nelson and Hayes rivers and portaging around the falls in exactly the way that the travelers of 1362 would have had to do it. In one way it would be less difficult for the latter to venture upon this river trip, for they would not be deterred "Knud Rasmussen, Den store sltederejse, iii (Copenhagen, 1932);

Peter Freuchen, Arctic Adventure, (New York, 1935) ; Magnus Olsen, " Kingigtorsoak-Stenen," in Norsk tidsskrift for sprogvidenskap, 5: 189Oslo, 1932).

" See ante, p. 26.

172 HJALMAR R. H O L A N D JUNE by a foreknowledge of the labors that awaited them. Once having set out, it would be a matter of meeting obstacles as they came. As these obstacles were not insurmountable, the travelers would eventually, barring accidents, reach the quiet waters above.

4. Professor Larson mentions the implication in the inscription that it was written on an island. "Unless competent geographers are ready to come forward and testify to a strong conviction that there was ah island in that place in the fourteenth century," he will refuse to believe it. In another place he asserts that it probably did not exist and he calls it a "mythical" island.^^ I do not know how many testimonies from competent geographers will be required to StiU his doubts. His objections have been answered by two scientists of national distinction. One is Winchell, the other is Upham. Being geologists who were familiar with formations of glacial origin all over the state, they were probably as quaUfied to speak on this question as anyone. In a letter to me of August 17, 1911, Winchell writes: "The changes of physiography are such that no faker could have wrought them into such an inscription within the last 100

years." This he repeats in a more emphatic way in a statement written for publication as foUows:

I am convinced from the geological conditions and the physical changes which the region has experienced, probably during the last 500 years, that the stone contains a genuine record of a Scandinavian exploration into Minnesota, and must be accepted as such for the date named.^^ In the report of the museum committee of the Minnesota Historical Society, which was written mainly by Winchell, he also repeatedly " testifies to a strong conviction that there was an island in that place in the fourteenth century."

This report was signed by Upham, a recognized authority on Minnesota geography, who separately affirmed his conviction concerning the existence of the island in the fourSee ante, p. 26-29.



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