Nytt om runer 19 (2004, publ. 2006), 35–36

The Kensington Runestone on Exhibition in Sweden

In 2003–04 the Kensington runestone (KRS) was on exhibition in Sweden, an event that led to renewed discussion of whether the runestone, found in Minnesota in 1898, was carved not too long before that year or in 1362 as its inscription claims.

The exhibition was the result of the rekindled interest in the KRS in the last few years. The starting point may be said to be two-fold. The first was the 2002 "Nordic Spirit Symposium" at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, February 22–24. The theme of the conference was "Scandinavian Immigrants: Builders of Nations" and the last day was devoted to a discussion on the KRS between Dr. Richard Nielsen, Houston, and myself. Nielsen is an engineer who has studied the KRS for many years and has written extensively on its runes and language. He also cooperated with the geologists Barry Hanson and Scott Wolter, the latter of whom produced fresh evidence pointing to the high age of the KRS inscription because of its weathering. The second and more important starting point was a visit to Minnesota in September that year by noted Swedish journalist Lars Westman, writing for Tidningen Vi.

The result of Westman's visit was a series of articles expounding on the theories of Nielsen and Wolter, and eventually Westman succeeded in awakening the interest of Kristian Berg, director of Statens Historiska Museum in Stockholm. The museum decided to bring over the KRS with the financial support of inter alia the American embassy in Stockholm and to arrange an exhibition around the runestone. The exhibition was opened October 22, 2003. On the same day there was a conference and subsequently various other activities such as popular lectures. One positive result of bringing the KRS to Sweden was the opportunity for scholars and scientists (e.g. runologists Helmer Gustavson and James Knirk and geologist Runo Löfvendahl at the National Antiquities Board [Riksantikvarieämbetet]) to study it before it was put on show.

As originally planned, the KRS was scheduled to return to Minnesota after the exhibition, but due to great interest in Hälsingland (the home province of the finder of the runestone, Olof Öhman), Häsinglands Museum managed to obtain permission to have the exhibition moved to Hudiksvall from February 8 until April 18, 2004. The KRS was subsequently returned to its home in the Runestone Museum in Alexandria.

Here the matter could have ended, had it not been for a radio interview about the KRS with Helmer Gustavson which jogged the memory of Professor emeritus Tryggve Sköld, Umeå, who had listened to a lecture on the KRS more than half a century ago. He works regularly at the Dialekt- ortnamns- och folkminnesarkivet in Umeå—DAUM (Institute for Dialectology, Onomastics and Folklore Research, Umeå) and had newly done some work on two sheets of paper dated 1883 and 1885, respectively, from a collection recently donated to the Institute, emanating from Edward Larsson, tailor and musician born in the province of Dalarna (the 1883 paper though from his older brother Carl Emil). The sheets important here contained various cryptic symbols as well as runes, and among the latter a set of runic characters very much like the ones used on the KRS, including the so-called pentadic numerals 1–10 (see the cover illustration for this issue of Nytt om runer). Sköld has discussed the similarities in papers in DAUM-Katta 2003, 7-10, and DAUM-Katta 2005, 5-12 (see http://www2.sofi.se/daum/katta/katta13/katta13.pdf [Wayback Machine] and http://www2.sofi.se/daum/katta/katta15/katta15.pdf [Wayback Machine]).

The Larsson papers conclusively prove that a KRS-like runic alphabet was known in Sweden before the stone was found. The logical conclusion is that the carver of the Kensington stone was familiar with the same type of runes as were the Larsson brothers. There is thus now a most plausible answer to the legitimate question why a 19th-century carver of the KRS did not use any known set of runes. It seems unlikely, however, that the Larsson runes were widely recognized among late 19th-century Swedes and Swedish-Americans. These runes seem to have a Dalecarlian connection, as has been surmised before. It remains to be shown who had knowledge of them in Minnesota a hundred years ago. The geological evidence of Wolter also needs to be addressed in depth by the proper experts.

Henrik Williams
Institutionen för nordiska språk, Uppsala universitet
Box 527, SE-751 20 Uppsala

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