Subject:      Kensington Stone & S. Williams: debunking went wrong?
From:         yuku@mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/07/16
Message-ID:   <5qiqa5$9ka$1@trends.ca>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,soc.history.medieval,soc.history.what-if,
	soc.culture.nordic,sci.skeptic


KENSINGTON STONE: A DEBUNKING WENT WRONG? (Stephen Williams' FANTASTIC
ARCHAEOLOGY and some of its fallacies.)

by Yuri Kuchinsky

So what is really the truth about the Kensington Stone of Minnesota? It's
interesting that there seems to have been a lack of takers in
sci.archaeology recently to argue the case against its authenticity. So,
in order to compare various arguments, I've looked up now the relevant
passages in a notable "debunking" volume, a classic in its own genre, by
Stephen Williams, of Harvard University. (Stephen Williams, FANTASTIC
ARCHAEOLOGY, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.)

I have looked into this controversy around the Kensington Stone in detail
by now, and I must state here my opinion that I believe it to be genuine.
It will soon be 100 years since the stone was found by Olof Ohman while
clearing a field near Kensington, Minnesota, in the fall of 1898. So
perhaps it is now fitting time to look at this unusual archaeological find
and how it was treated by the academic establishment.

Williams' hefty volume contains quite a few debunkings. Many of them, such
as the stories of "Sunken Continents", the "Creationist" mish-mash, and
the "Psychic Archaeology" stuff are quite valid and necessary. It is
important that researchers and interested amateurs should know the
difference between science and pseudo-science. But in a number of places
Williams in his zeal definitely oversteps the limits dictated by both
objectivity and the common sense. And here, his volume itself slips into
pseudo-scholarship. In particular, his treatment of George Carter is
rather unfair. His treatment of Barry Fell is extremely cursory, and, in
this case, Williams seems mostly to deal in insults and snide
insinuations (more on this at the end of this article).

Quite a few files concerning the Kensington Stone exist on the WWW at a
number of websites. (Provided at the end of this post.) The files include
bibliographies, illustrations, detailed analyses, and the like. So I don't
feel I have to go into great detail in this article. I include some quotes
from certain WWW sites later on, but meanwhile, here's a brief overview of
this unusual story.

The inscription, dated in 1362, is quite a disturbing one -- in fact it's
content is almost spooky. It reads like a desperate plea to posterity from
a group of very frightened Norse who find themselves very far into a
hostile territory, and a number of whose companions were just murdered by
persons unknown. They most likely thought they will be next, it seems, and
so they chiseled this inscription into a rock, to leave some memory of
their ill-fated presence in this bushland of Minnesota...

And to add to the strangeness of the message, the discoverers of the Stone
were... also Swedes (mixed with Norwegians)! One may understand how the
"debunkers" would have been licking their chops at such a strange
coincidence... Oh, never mind... And later on, Williams brings to our
attention some other strange coincidences associated with the stone, as
well... In particular he says, among other things, that

" ... in 1862, during the Indian wars that broke out during the Civil War,
a group of Scandinavians at Norway Lake, not far from Kensington, came
back from church and found ten of their number brutally killed by the
Indians." (p. 205)

Of course the inscription on the Stone also tells about 10 companions of
the authors of the inscription being murdered in the vicinity...
Strange... Williams also gives a couple of other somewhat unusual
coincidences associated with the Stone's message. I really don't know what
to make of this all, except I believe these things really cannot be taken
as a proof of anything. Just some of such things that seem to happen in
this strange "real world" of ours now and again...

In any case, to continue with the story of the Kensington Stone.

Great controversies took place around the Stone right from the time it was
found. Strong opinions were expressed both pro and con its authenticity.
It is interesting that in 1915 the Minnesota Historical Society pronounced
it genuine. (p. 198, op. cit.)

Williams basically accepts that the stone was found in the ground
entwisted in the roots of a tree. The age of the tree is in doubt,
according to him, but he accepts the stone would have spent at least a few
years in the ground prior to being uncovered. Clearly, Williams thinks an
intricate and convoluted conspiracy existed among the finders, the simple
poor Swedish farmers, to forge the stone.

Williams makes much of the discovery, in 1949, in a private letter, of an
early copy of the inscription that contains a large number of errors. This
discovery was publicized in 1951, in ANTIQUITY, by Erik Moltke, and it
created a lot of negative publicity for the Stone:

"Using the British journal ANTIQUITY as his platform, Moltke published in
1951 a strongly worded denunciation of the stone with the major force of
his argument drawn from Holvik's archival find [of the above mentioned
poor copy]." (p. 200)

A bunch of extremely suspicious debunkers believed that this early copy of
the Stone inscription was in fact not a copy at all, but a "working draft"
of the conspiratorial forgers! Williams also subscribes to this theory.

"It is not a 'true' copy; there are 'mistakes'. Indeed, when the copy is
carefully compared with the stone, at least a dozen differences are
apparent. How could this be? Perhaps it is a 'bad' copy..." (p. 201)

According to Williams, the "forgers" were working long and hard to get the
inscription ironed out before engraving it on the stone. The silliness of
this argument will become apparent later on when I will present evidence
that in order to get the inscription right, the bunch of semiliterate
farmers had to know much more about the medieval Swedish than any of the
top scholars of the day could ever know! In any case, this extremely
suspicious "theory" of Williams' is refuted in minute detail at one of the
WWW sites that I mentioned.

How unqualified these very unlikely "master forgers" would have been to
forge a runic inscription of such a grammatical sophistication is
illustrated by the fact that in the very same letter, where the "forgers"
were supposed to have been consulting with each other in private, its
writer, J. Hedberg, described the letters of the runic inscription as "old
Greek letters." (p. 201)

On p. 202, Williams discusses the educational record of Ohman, the
discoverer.

"Hagen [a defender of the Stone] tries to make the point that no one among
the discoverers knew runes ... but the facts are contrary to that opinion.
Indeed, some knowledge of runes was a common part of nineteenth-century
Swedish heritage..." (p. 202)

"Some knowledge or runes"? We're talking about a farmer with a few months
of formal education! Some knowledge indeed...

Now I will give a couple of quite strong reasons why I think the Stone is
genuine. First, I don't think the Lutheran Swedish farmers of the 19th
century would have ever known that the Swedes of the 14th century making
it to America would have been Catholic. (As the reading of the inscription
will show, the inscription contains a Catholic prayer to AVE MARIA.) And
even had they known this, they would have been quite unlikely to provide a
free plug for the Vatican for which they would have had few sympathies.

And, furthermore, the same AVE MARIA, the way it was abbreviated on the
Stone, provides an additional very strong indication the inscription is
genuine. This is explained in detail at one of the WWW sites. Read on.

Here are some passages from the statement by Rolf M. Nilsestuen, the
author of a recent volume, "The Kensington Runestone Vindicated", 1994.
His full "rebuttal to the critics of the Stone" is available on the WWW,
at:

[22]http://members.aol.com/kensrune

His book is very well researched, it contains statements by eminent modern
runic scholars in defence of the Stone, and the following passage is quite
telling.

[begin quotes]

Ohman [the discoverer of the Stone] had a total of only nine months
"formal" education as a child in Sweden. His only book on Swedish grammar
contained the standard list of 12th century runes, but little else that
would have been of use to him in forging the inscription. [Great many of
the runes found in the inscription are not in that book, a very basic
primary-school textbook that Ohman had in his house - Y.] Yet to do so, he
would have had to know a long list of facts that were unknown to
university scholars until the 20th century:

*       that the flowery, inflected word endings and plural word forms of
Old Norse had been dropped from the vernacular by the middle of the 14th
century;

*       that a dozen runic forms not given in published futharks in the
14th century were in use at that time;

*       that the pentadic decimal system of numerals was known in
Scandinavia in the 14th century;

*       that the site of the discovery had been an island in a lake in the
14th century, something modern geologists still cannot be certain of;

*       that the five modern English words also happened to be Norwegian
words in the 14th century;

*       that in Scandinavia in the 14th century "a day's sailing" on
inland waters was 75 English miles;

*       that the route from Hudson Bay to Kensington is marked by a series
of Viking-style mooring stones;

*       that "havet" (salt water) lies within 14 "sailing days" of
Kensington;

*       that in the 14th century, Roman letters were used with runes to
show special respect to the Deity;

*       that the Catholic prayer, "Ave Virgo Maria save (us) from evil,"
was recited at funerals for victims of the plague (How likely is it that a
l9th century Lutheran farmer would have had such information?);

*       that an expedition composed of Swedes and Norwegians, an otherwise
unheard-of situation, had been in North America in 1362;

*       finally, he would have had to know that, hidden in the brush in a
remote spot by a lake 75 miles (one "sailing day") north of Kensington,
there are two large boulders with Viking-style mooring holes in them that
mark the scene of the massacre. Before the lake level was lowered in the
l9th century, they would have been in the water and would have fit the
definition of 'skerries.'

        ...

One problem with these people [the critics of the authenticity of the
stone] is that they get carried away by their own rhetoric and go
overboard, thus destroying any credibility they might otherwise have had.
To believe the inscription is a forgery, it is necessary to believe a long
list of things that range from the wildly improbable to the flatout
impossible, but that does not deter the critics from inventing excuses for
believing what they want to believe. The claims of forgery are built on an
edifice of unfounded insinuation that (1) all the witnesses to the
discovery formed a conspiracy to lie, (2) the medieval manuscripts from
which the evidence was obtained are unreliable, and (3) the long list of
eminent scholars who have provided the evidence and arguments for
authenticity were incompetent. I rest my case for the defense. Rolf M.
Nilsestuen."

"The Kensington Runestone Vindicated", 1994, By Rolf M. Nilsestuen

Cloth-bound in Norse red w/gold lettering. 203 pp., photos, bib. Available
from the publisher for $39 + s/h. University Press of America, 4720 Boston
Way, Lanham, MD 20706, or from the author for $20 + $1.50 s/h. Rolf M.
Nilsestuen, 5404 Woodacre Drive, Suitland, MD 0746-2297

[end quotes]

The following is the "Home Page" for the Kensington Stone. You will find a
number of other relevant links at this site:

[23]http://www.sound.net/~billhoyt/kensington.htm

And now, let's get back to that AVE MARIA abbreviation. Info about this is
available at another website, linked with the previous one.

[begin quote]

Three letters on the Stone, AVM, pictured above, provide the sufficient
mark of antiquity to declare the Kensington Stone genuine. Keith A.J.
Massey and his twin brother Kevin Massey-Gillespie have noted that the
convention of medieval abbreviation presented in these letters is beyond
the reasonable ability of even the most expert forger. The details around
this Latin abbreviation will convince even the most hardened skeptic that
the Kensington Stone is the real article.

[end quote]

Basically, what the authors of this theory, the Massey brothers, are
saying, is that AVE MARIA, abbreviated on the Stone as AVM, provides the
best single item of proof that the Stone is genuine. The letter V in AVM
is inscribed on the stone in a special sort of way, with an elongated
right-hand part of the letter V. This is known as a _superscript_. Using
such superscripts in abbreviations was common in the middle ages, but not
at all in the 19th century. And yet only very few specialists on medieval
epigraphy in the world would know that this abbreviation is the right one.
Certainly semiliterate 19th century Swedish farmers had no way in Heaven
or Hell to know this... Read more about this, and see the images at:

[24]http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/keithngail

Detailed info is available from the same site linked at:

[25]http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/keithngail/ks2.htm

As I understand it, the consensus on the Kensington Stone is slowly
changing at this time in the positive sense. It is helpful to keep in mind
that the negative opinions against the stone were formulated at the time
when relatively little was known either about the runes, or about the
medieval Swedish. We know a lot more now. New research tended to provide
more support for the genuineness of the Stone.

And, more importantly, these negative opinions were formulated at the time
when any theories about early presence of the Norse in America were
considered _highly speculative_, if not outright kooky. Since Helge
Ingstad's discoveries in Canada, this is speculative no more. I suppose
Kensington Stone scholarship will have to factor this "astounding fact" in
slowly but surely. I'm aware of a rumour that a certain quite notable and
distinguished "debunker" (not Williams), who was previously negative, now
changed his position and seems to accept that the Kensington Stone is
genuine. One wonders how long it will be before Williams himself will see
the light?

Best wishes,

Yuri.

Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- [26]http://www.io.org/~yuku

Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman, but believing what he
read made him mad -=O=- George Bernard Shaw

p.s.

Here's a note about how I feel Barry Fell, a controversial researcher of
similar subjects, now deceased, was treated by Willaims.

Nobody said Fell's historical legacy is problem-free. He was a very
unusual character with great many interests and an unstoppable energy. He
allowed freely that some of his claims and historical theories may not
stand as valid in the future. He didn't even care about it! Now, this will
be truly shocking to your true-blue super-careful academic who fears being
"exposed" as incorrect on even one uncautious claim more than the plague.
The true and amazing story of Fell and the archaeological profession, this
immense culture-clash, this War of the Worlds, still remains to be written
in all its winding and twisting detail. Williams didn't even scratch the
surface... (Interestingly, Williams allows that Fell's "batting average"
may be "an anemic .100, to be on the generous side" [p. 283]. If this is
so, then among Fell's thousands of claims there will be a few hundred
valid ones! One would like to ask Williams which of Fell's theories he
finds valid, but not a word further is said in his book about this...)
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