Subject:      KRS: how the historical evidence was nearly lost
From:         yuku@mail.trends.ca (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/08/11
Message-ID:   <5snga4$90v$1@trends.ca>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,soc.history.medieval,soc.culture.nordic,
		sci.skeptic


Kensington Rune Stone: how the historical truth was nearly lost.

By Yuri Kuchinsky.

Kensigton Rune Stone is an extremely important historical relic. It is a
part of North American heritage that can cast considerable light on what
really went on in some parts of precolumbian America. It can also provide
us with a good case study of how scholarly process can work -- or
sometimes fail to work -- in this quite controversial field of American
prehistory where evidence is often scarce and confusing, the opinions are
often quite heated, and the historical truth not so easy to establish.
Every little bit of evidence is important in this field, and Kensington
Rune Stone provides us with a substantial amount, I believe...

Jan Bohme, a Swedish philologist, has recently contributed to these
discussions, and I find his contributions very revealing. He presented
quite a barrage of arguments against the authenticity of the KRS, and I
and others will deal with all of them in due time. Meanwhile, I would like
to present another overview of the Stone's recent history, and how it was
treated by the academic establishment. This is based on my recent
rereading of THE KENSINGTON RUNESTONE VINDICATED, by Rolf Nilsestuen,
University Press of America, 1994. (The author now also has a webpage
where his arguments can be found in greater detail at

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

This is a very well researched book that deals quite adequately with all
arguments against KRS's authenticity, and contains abundant citations of
recent literature.

Jan, being a specialist in medieval Scandinavian history and linguistics,
presents mostly linguistic arguments. He, very typically for his
compatriots, almost completely disregards the circumstances of the
discovery of the KRS near Kensington, Minnesota. I would like to stress
here that _all_ linguistic arguments against the authenticity of the Stone
have been proven invalid by the scholars like Sivert N. Hagen, and more
recently by Prof. Robert A. Hall, a distinguished Cornell University
linguist, and Richard Nielsen who dedicated a lifetime of research to
KRS. The proof is in the books that were published on the subject
recently. Citations have been given already.

So, for now, I will deal here mostly with how the Stone was discovered and
what happened next. Linguistic arguments aside, this alone should strongly
indicate authenticity.

The Stone would have probably never been found if not for one tree that
the immigrant farmer Olof Ohman found very difficult to get out of the
ground as he was clearing a field near Kensington, in the fall of 1898.
When the tree was finally uprooted, it proved to have been growing over a
big flat stone buried in the ground beneath it. The roots of the tree were
entwined around the stone. This is not disputed by anyone at all. A great
number of witnesses verified this. Some later critics tried to challenge
the age of the tree, true, but it was obviously a big enough tree.
Best reports indicate that the tree was around 70 years old.

Ohman and his young son Edward, who was helping him that day, noticed
that the Stone had unusual markings on it. The news travelled fast, and
all the neighbourhood soon heard about this unusual discovery. People came
to look at the Stone and the uprooted tree that Ohman displayed for all to
see. There's no doubt about this, as the Minnesota Historical Society
investigated all this very carefully in 1908-1910. These old reports of
the Society are readily available.

Nobody had the slightest idea what those markings represented. A copy of
the inscription was made, and sent to the University of Minnesota. It was
a very poor copy. Prof. Breda of said University, who actually didn't
know all that much about runes, didn't like what he saw. And this is how the
confusion began...

"Unfortunately, Breda knew very little about runes and was unable to read
some of the words or any of the numbers, including the year." (op. cit. p.
13)

In his great wisdom, Breda concluded that the inscription could be about
the 11th century (since he managed to make out the word "Vinland").
And since the inscription wasn't written in the Old Norse of the 11th
century, he concluded on this basis: a fake! Believe it or not... He
never actually _bothered_ to take a short trip to Kensington to see the
Stone or the tree associated with it for himself! Now, this is some
methodology... This is the dedicated and dispassionate quest for the past!
And thus began the chain of absurdities, misunderstandings, plain
stupidities, errors, and outright distortions that the opponents of the
Stone seemed to have perpetuated even unto the present day....

Oh, yes, the authorities in Scandinavia were also consulted at the time by
the good Prof. Breda. One should give him credit at least for this... I
suppose it is easier to send a letter than to go and look at an unusual
discovery made only a hundred miles away from home... And this is how
Prof. Rygh of Oslo also got involved at the time. He was equally negative.
To give him some benefit of the doubt a) he was considerably further from
the discovery and it would have been a little harder for him to make the
trip, and b) the copy he was sent (most likely the very same one as used
by Breda) was chock full of errors. In 1965, it was discovered that the
copy he had to work with was hopeless.

"...the inscription from which Rygh translated contained 33 (!) errors
including the omission of two whole words." (p. 15)

Can you believe this now? All these glaring errors for an inscription
consisting of all of 65 words? So this is what Jan's "competent
Scandinavian professionals" had to work with! This is how Jan's vaunted
"consensus" was formed. Need I say more?

It also needs to be noted that Rygh was not a runologist or philologist
(p. 14). He was an archaeologist. But he was apparently never informed
about the circumstances of the discovery of this artifact! And he didn't
bother to ask, it seems...

So here we go... This is the methodology to follow! One sorry academic
"investigator", Breda, proved to be, it seems, due to his unbelievable
laziness and shiftlessness, a veritable discredit to his profession. The
other one, Rygh, was passing judgements about the area he was not really
competent in, while working in the dark because of the errors in the
copy... Quite a chain of errors, indeed...

You may have wondered why the Minnesota Historical Society investigated
the discovery 10 years later, so late after the fact... Well, we certainly
should be very grateful it investigated at all... Because it needs to be
said that after the dreadful fiasco of its first interface with the
Academe, the KRS was in fact very nearly "buried back into the earth"...

Yes, dear friends, the logic of events tended to point inevitably to this
outcome. I'm sure that none of us would have ever learned about this
unusual artifact if not for a chance event...

When the good farmer Ohman learned from wise professors that the Stone was
"forged", presumably by his own person, he scratched his head and decided
to forget all about it... I guess the fact that the cattle had to be fed
outweighed by far most other considerations for him? So he made a
_doorstep_ of the Stone, and proceeded to other pressing business!
Apparently he was heard to say that if the learned professors thought that
the stone is not what it's supposed to be, then they must be right in any
case... (p. 167) They were the ones who were wise in books, while he could
just sign his own name, and usually relied on others to compose the few
letters he needed to write...

So this most likely would have been the end of this story... if not for a
young graduate student named Hjalmar Holand who was doing some
sociological research in 1907 in the area. Everyone in the big world
outside Kensington had already forgotten about the curious relic by that
time. But Holand was told about it by some farmers, and he decided to
investigate for himself. The result was a lifetime committment to this
historical artifact and its history. This is how we know what we know now.
The history was rescued from oblivion by a chance event...

Holland published his first article about this in 1908, in a Chicago
newspaper. Thanks to him, public attention was woken up, and the MHS
carefully investigated the circumstances of the discovery. The conclusion
of the Society was that the Stone was the real thing.

"...the MHS Committee ... in 1910 and again in 1913, unanimously declared
its conclusion that it [the KRS] is genuine." (p. 22)

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how its conclusion could have been
otherwise... Since most of the numerous eyewitnesses were still around --
the Stone having attracted much local attention at the time -- and all the
participants in this story were very well known in the small community as
hard-working and honest men, the facts of the discovery were all there to
see. It was the _tree_ that was the deciding factor, most likely!

Nilsestuen himself grew up on the farm in this very same area, and he adds
a unique perspective to his book because of this. He knows these people
very well. These are not some sort of con artists. These are upstanding
and deeply religious people who swore out affidavits testifying that all
they said was true. Why would they commit perjury? Indeed, the only motive
ever suggested by the "debunkers" is... as a prank! This is really very
insulting to suggest that these people, these simple farmers, would lie
under oath for such a reason... None of them ever stood to profit from any
of this. What kind of "conspirators" were they? Really...

I would suggest that all linguistic and runological evidence aside,
supposing that the competent scholars may legitimately disagree about the
inscription itself, the benefit of the doubt should CLEARLY be on the side
of the conclusions reached by the Minnesota Historical Society at that
time. In my opinion, the circumstances of the discovery, by themselves,
give a clear indication that the Stone is genuine.

And the linguistic evidence also clearly does support the authenticity of
the Stone, although this needs to be dealt with separately. 

And what if Hjalmar Holand did not stumble upon this Stone way back in
1907? What if he passed it by? What do you think would have happened?
Another piece of ancient American history dug up and then buried back into
the ground? Quite a few of those... Yes, I think this would have been
quite likely.

We should really ask, Why and how such things can happen in scholarship in
this field of study? Why the politicisation, the angry taking of sides,
the vitriol, the uninformed dismissals, the refusal to deal with reality?
Yes, friends, these things do happen in this field often enough. That's
why the story of the Kensington Rune Stone must be looked at in detail.
Quite apart from what it can tell us about medieval history, it can also
tell us a lot about the way our scholarly community in this particular
field (but perhaps not only?) often proceeds when looking at such
questions.

It should also be noted that great many of the academic opponents of the
Stone's authenticity reside in Scandinavia. Why this is so is an
interesting and far from a very simple question. Jan of course is terribly
wrong, and quite uninformed when he says that some sort of a "unanimous"
academic consensus exists in Scandinavia against the Stone. I have the
proof to show him wrong. This proof was not hard to find... And this is
not the first time he came up with an ill-informed, and a rather
prejudiced statement... But it is true that the Scandinavian scholars seem
to be more biased against this artifact than other researchers. The errors
of Prof. Rygh die hard.

It seems to me that _classism_ is mainly to blame here. After all, the
haughty Scandinavian upper class academic intellectuals always looked down
with thinly disguised contempt on the "illiterate and oafish farmers" who
chose to immigrate to America to escape from poverty, and from the
considerable oppression they were subjected to by their ruling classes in
the "Old Country". What could these city snobs expect from the "stupid
country bumpkins", their less fortunate compatriots, who went to carve out
by their sweat and extremely hard work farmsteads in the Minnesota
bushland? "Nothing good, let me tell you..." They found a Rune Stone?
"Yeah, sure..."

This is the sort of attitude that I see underlying Jan's arrogant
comments...

I will continue with my reply to Jan as the days go by...

Best regards,

Yuri.

Yuri Kuchinsky in Toronto -=O=- [23]http://www.io.org/~yuku

It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense than
to put out on the troubled seas of thought -=O=- John K. Galbraith
   _________________________________________________________________


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