Kensington Ruenstone

On this day in MN History: Mystery Unearthed in Minnesota Fields

On November 8, 1898, Swedish immigrant farmer Olof Ohman uncovered a curious artifact while clearing trees on his Douglas County, Minnesota land near Kensington.

The 202-pound slab of graywacke stone bore an intricate inscription of runic letters on its face and sides.

This mysterious find would become known as the Kensington Runestone, and its purported medieval origin has provoked debate ever since.

Front view of the Kensington Runestone

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Runes Hint at Pre-Columbus Explorers

The runic writing on the Kensington Runestone tells a startling tale, supposedly authored by a party of Scandinavian explorers in the year 1362.

It describes an expedition inland from the Atlantic coast, during which 10 men were killed. Linguists have questioned whether the runic script matches 14th century usage.

If genuine, the inscription suggests Norse voyagers penetrated deep into Minnesota over a century before Columbus arrived in the Americas.

This would rewrite the timeline of European exploration in the New World.

Origins Shrouded in Uncertainty

In the 125 years since the Runestone’s discovery, its origins remain highly uncertain.

Some believe Ohman carved the runes himself or collaborated on a hoax. But his limited education has raised doubts over whether he had the language skills to craft a forgery.

Defenders assert the Runestone shows appropriate weathering, while skeptics say it would show more erosion if truly 600 years old. The Runestone’s age, creators and purpose are still hotly debated.

Enduring Curiosity Over a Minnesota Enigma

The Kensington Runestone has spawned countless theories, analyses, and arguments since Ohman unearthed it in Minnesota fields.

Early excitement over evidence of pre-Columbus exploration has faded among mainstream scholars, who largely brand the Runestone a hoax. But doubters cannot fully explain who crafted the elaborate forgery or why.

The many unsolved riddles, for those who care to ponder them, contribute to the resilient intrigue around this local curiosity.

While consensus suggests the Kensington Runestone is more likely a 19th century fabrication than a 14th century relic, its enduring mysteries have captivated Minnesotans for 125 years.

The enigmatic stone serves as a tangible reminder that the distant past often resists easy interpretation.

For now, the Runestone’s uncertain origins remain an unsolved puzzle entwined with Minnesota history.


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