Subject: KRS: how the historical evidence was nearly lost From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Yuri Kuchinsky) Date: 1997/08/11 Message-ID: <email@example.com> 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 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=- 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. 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