Oct 14, 2015

The Kensington Runestone

Every summer from kindergarten to college (when I decided to stay home), my parents dragged me on a week's camping trip somewhere up north, to Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, or Canada.  Other than the roadside beefcake, it was usually pretty dismal, with no tv, no museums, no historic sites, nothing to do but hunt, fish, swim, and mess around in boats.

But during the summer after eighth grade, we went camping in Alexandria, Minnesota, site of the Kensington Runestone.








Young Swedish immigrant Olof Ohlman discovered the 200-pound slab of sandstone covered with Medieval runes in 1898.  It tells about a group of 30 Vikings who left Vinland "on an exploration journy" in 1362, and somehow made it to Minnesota.  One day some of them went fishing, and returned to find the men they left behind "red with blood and death," probably attacked by Skraelings (Indians).

My junior high history textbook stated categorically that no Europeans made it to the New World before Columbus, so this was a startling discovery, and immediately controversial.  The academic establishment decreed the runestone to be a fake, carved by Ohlman for financial gain.


In 1907, a young historian named Hjalmar Holand bought the runestone, and spent the rest of his life trying to prove it genuine, describing how Vikings could well have made it to Minnesota in books like Westward from Vinland (1940) and A Pre-Columbian Crusade to America (1962). 

The jury is still out on whether the runestone is authentic, but Alexandria loves its claim to fame.  There's a runestone museum and gift shop, and a 28-foot statue of a Viking, Big Ole.

Today, regardless of whether they believe that the Vikings got as far as Minnesota, all historians recognize that they reached the New World before Columbus, and established a permanent settlement in L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland.



What's the gay connection?

1. The Vikings who explored Minnesota were all male.

2. Olof Ohlmann was rather cute.

3. My junior high history textbook was wrong.  The adults either didn't know about the Viking exploration of America, or they were lying about it.  What else were they hiding? Maybe the upcoming "discovery of girls" that everyone at Washington Junior HIgh was always evoking was a lie, too.

See also: The Top 12 Public Penises of Minnesota