Imagine you were on a mission, deep into a foreign land, where you have realized that you would not survive. Then you probably leave a message behind. But if you had foreseen that people would call your message a hoax … based on your grammatical errors … you likely got horrified …
Here is a take on the Kensington Runestone, the biggest historical mystery in North America.
Let us go back to 1905
In 1905 Norway and Sweden stood on the brinks of war. If it breaks out, it will be the third war since the beginning of the 1800s. The first 1808-1809 ended in a stalemate. Norway lost the second. But this time, the Norwegians are much more prepared. Stronger fortresses, better weapons, and very motivated soldiers. This will not be like the short and humiliating war of 1814, called Kattekrigen (Cat war), because the Swedes were hunting the Norwegians like they were mice. Now the Norwegians will break free from a union with roots back in medieval times. This longing for freedom had gradually grown in force and intensity on every level. Not only for the military that had been strengthened a lot — especially since the late 1880s — but also for the elite of Norwegian art, culture, and history.
The big boost
To find a Viking ship is something remarkable. Not an everyday occurrence, to put it mildly. So, when they found a longship in the “Gokstadhaugen” burial mound in 1879, it boosted Norwegian pride. Norwegians had long been the little brother among the Scandinavian siblings, with hundreds of years without their own Norwegian king. Hence this Viking ship was a reminder of the good old days when Norway was a strong country. With war heroes and discoverers.
Note the flag in the stern. During the 1870s, the union became increasingly unpopular in Norway. Consequently, the union mark was seen as a sign not of equality, but a union forced upon the country against its will. Radicals made it their political goal to reintroduce the «pure» Norwegian flag as the first step toward the union’s dissolution. The parliamentary majority voted for removing the mark three times but was defeated by royal veto twice.
Finally, in 1898 (note this date), the third royal veto was overruled, and the union mark was removed from the national (merchant) and the state flag. It remained in the war flag (naval ensign), as this was under the king’s jurisdiction. However, parliament introduced a new state flag for government buildings, like the war flag, but without the union mark. The «pure» Norwegian flag was hoisted again in 1899.
So, when a Swedish immigrant unearthed a stone with runic letters in Minnesota in 1898, it did not get the same attention as the Gokstad Viking ship. Especially in Norway, since it talked about Swedes and Norwegians on an expedition in America in 1362 — 130 years before Columbus. The experts at the University of Oslo perceived the language form as “impossible, a very clumsy attempt at to construct an old language form without possessing the required knowledge. For runological, linguistic and historical reasons, the inscription cannot be genuine”.
Hm, of historical reasons too?
Intentionally or not, what if they were wrong? In the 14th century, there were no grammatical rules for the Scandinavian languages, which were also constantly changing. And most of the surviving documents were written in a solemn and formal language as well.
Quite frankly, I can imagine linguists 600 years into the future study written sources from the 21st century, what a nightmare that will be. Today we have two different languages: Bokmål and Nynorsk. Bokmål, literally «book tongue,» is an official written standard for the Norwegian language, alongside Nynorsk. Bokmål is the preferred written standard of Norwegian for 85% to 90% of the population in Norway. Unlike, for instance, the Italian language, there is no nationwide standard or agreement on the pronunciation of Bokmål. Plus, some even choose to write in their own dialect, which could be difficult to understand for those who do not speak this dialect—no wonder why many Norwegians struggle to write Norwegian perfectly.
Quotes from Professor Eyvind Fjeld Halvorsen:
“The peculiarities of the language situation in Norway are the product of Norwegian and Nordic history. The languages of the three main Nordic countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, are so similar that the inhabitants basically understand each other and can use their own language when talking to people from the other countries. This is because the language evolved from a common Nordic tongue and that development has mainly followed the same course throughout central Scandinavia. One thousand years ago, when Nordic pioneers settled in Russia and Western Europe, and on the islands in the Atlantic Ocean from the Orkneys and Shetland islands to Greenland, the same common Nordic language was spoken throughout the entire region. The differences in dialects that existed then were insignificant, and were far smaller than the dialectical variations found today in each of the Nordic countries.
The languages underwent great change in the late Middle Ages. Most of the changes began in the country located the farthest south, Denmark, and spread north, like ocean waves. Norway lay farthest from Denmark, and Norwegian therefore retained the characteristics of the common Nordic language the longest.
The Christianization of the Nordic countries in 900-1100 brought with it written language. In Norway the national language was adopted as a written language before 1100, perhaps patterning itself after England in this respect, while Denmark and Sweden used Latin in public discourse in the first years following the coming of Christianity. Danish and Swedish were not brought into use as written languages until the 12- and 1300s, at a time when Denmark in particular had become removed from the common Nordic foundation”.
Göter: The sentence of the text says, “8 Göter and 22 Norwegians”. This is an important detail because it reveals a significant detail. Unlike Norway, which had been more or less a united kingdom since the Viking age, Sweden was more divided. The distinction between Swedes (Svear) and Geats (Göter) lasted during the Middle Ages.
Numbers: as they appear on the Kensington runestone, the so-called pentadic numbers and their usage in the 1362 date are highly debated. It is a matter of an unknown development. (The same goes for the specific runic alphabet.) Still, it makes sense.
The numbers below are from a calendar book dated 1399
Rise: means “journey”, and this word occurs twice on the Kensington runestone. Therefore, it must have been intentionally. Except for these examples, this scarce word has only been found in a few documents from the 1300s, found in, guess where — Götaland. Isn’t that awesome?
Ö: is a puzzling runic letter, not because of the two dots, but because it consists of two runes: the Ö and a tiny N-rune in the middle.
This is very tiny, considered that most of the runes are just one inch high, which gives small margins to make the N-rune. Neither does the N-rune make sense regarding the sound. So, there must be an explanation. Maybe a prayer or some secret message, a hint.
Since runic writings gradually went out of use in the 13th and 1400s, it might explain why someone developed this exceedingly rare runic alphabet. Maybe it has been used in a guild or something, a closed society. However, most runologist believe it originates from the Swedish Dalecarlian runes from the 1500s. When that said, it could perfectly well have been used in 1362. It is a matter of belief.
AVM: The abbreviation for Ave Maria consists of the Latin letters AVM, which fit very well with the 14th century because back then, most Scandinavians were Catholics.
Let us go further back
Summer in the Greenland coast circa the year 1000 by Carl Rasmussen (1874).
Greenland was colonized from Iceland and Norway in the Viking Age and the Middle Ages. The saga literature tells that Erik Thorvaldsson, also known as Erik the Red, came to Greenland in 982. The name is an early example of misleading marketing; it is an ice-covered island, so Erik called it Greenland to lure people to move over there. Admittedly, the climate must have been more favourable in his time, with better conditions for agriculture. When the Norse population established themselves, they found no indigenous people. It is believed that the Inuit’s lived north of the island and only later came south and met the settlers.
In the Middle Ages, there was extensive trade with Greenland, primarily over to the Norwegian town Bergen. From Greenland, hides, skins, furs, walrus stalks and wadding were brought in, and iron, grain and wood were sent out from Norway. The emigration from Norway to Greenland continued through the 11th and 12th centuries. The population may have reached around 4,000 people in the High Middle Ages, and sites from more than 290 farms have been found. The Norse population was divided into two main areas, Western Settlement, and Eastern Settlement. The latter was the largest settlement.
At the beginning of the 11th century, Christianity was introduced. In 1124 a separate diocese was established for Greenland, and in 1153 this was placed under the archdiocese of Nidaros. In 1216, under king Haakon IV Haakonsson, Greenland was formally linked to the Norwegian Empire. A royal estate was established in Eastern Settlement. In the 14th century, the Greenland trade was limited to one ship, “Grønlandsknarren”.
After the Black Death, the annual trade trip to Greenland ceased. The last Norse bishop died in 1378, and the Western Settlement seems to have been deserted from the middle of the 14th century. Eastern Settlement lasted until around the year 1500. A ship that docked in 1540 to seek refuge did not find any living inhabitants but a body that had not been buried. Why this society died out is unclear. The suggestions that often occur are a combination of several factors: the lack of imports of vital supplies after the Black Death and struggles with the Inuit’s, famine, and disease. The climate got colder.
But there is another explanation that is barely mentioned, even though it has a written source.
In 1630, after a whole archive was lost in a fire in Iceland, bishop Gisle Oddson immediately started to make a synopsis of the most important documents. Old reports, which he writes in Latin. One of these is dated to 1342, and there he gives us a fair enough answer: The population of Greenland left their Christian belief willingly and turned to the American people.
Did these people choose to immigrate to America, or Vinland as they called it back in those days? It is could be the most obvious explanation. They have known this rich and fertile land since Leif Erikson discovered it some 300 years earlier, around 1000 AD.
Such an event would, of course, not pass by without a reaction from the king and church.
November 3, 1354, the king of Norway, Sweden and Scania, Magnus Eriksson, ordered an expedition to Greenland. Paul Knutsson is the captain of the king’s ship. He can freely choose his crew, whether they are the king’s own men or others, then the king asks them to show goodwill for the matter in question: «for our souls and our parent’s sake » do not let Christianity lapse in Greenland.
(A copy of this letter is stored at the Royal Library in Copenhagen).
With its 1362 date, it fits well into the drama around the lost Greenlanders. The Kensington runestone is now at the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.
The experts at the University of Oslo perceived the language form as “impossible, a very clumsy attempt at to construct an old language form without possessing the required knowledge. For runological, linguistic and historical reasons, the inscription cannot be genuine”.
My name is Tom Thowsen, and I`m just an ordinary bloke from Norway interested in history. I also happen to be an artist who likes to create things in all kinds of material, from clay, stone, paper, digital, canvas, to write novels and articles.
Ever since the Kensington runestone caught me in 2007, I have spent some hours of research during the years. I have had correspondence with most of the recent researchers connected to this stone. I even sat on the board of directors for the American Association for Runic Studies for a short period. In 2010 I established the Facebook group: The Kensington Rune Stone International Supporters Club, consisting of 1338 members worldwide. In 2017 I released my novel Kayaweta, an archaeological thriller about the Kensington runestone.
But this very blog article is only a shallow dive into this huge matter.
However, my goal is to make people aware of this and get science back on the right track lost in our Norwegian fight for independence.
Thank you so much for your attention.