In defense of the Kensington Runestone: a code-stone

Photo: Bob Voyles The site of a possible Norse code-stone in the Upper Midwest.

Photo: Bob Voyles
The site of a possible Norse code-stone in the Upper Midwest.

Bob Voyles
Bloomington, Minn.

In two recent opinion pieces in the Norwegian American Weekly, I explained in detail about medieval Norse stoneholes here in the Upper Midwest region of the U.S. and about medieval Norse waterways, too, while discussing the Kensington Runestone. I now hope to coalesce everything together in such a way that readers may be able to envision the possibility that I recently discovered evidence of a very real medieval Scandinavian land claim—in the form of this unusual “Norse Stonehole Code-Stone” I found in the spring of 2015 (pictured).

This deceptively simple-appearing “backup” code-stone actually contains a wealth of information. Initially, it draws a future code-breaker’s attention to the “missing hole” spot. Why is there no hole there in the “missing spot” in the line of three stoneholes? One is supposed to consider this! Next, a future code-breaker would need to closely examine the code-stone stonehole rock and ponder about why the first hole is shallow, the next hole is deeper, and the final hole is deeper still. (Representing the future code-breaker here, I will suggest that this may have been purposely done by the medieval code-maker to indicate going down, or “to dig.”)

Photo: Bob Voyles

Photo: Bob Voyles

Walking eastwardly about twenty-five paces from the code-stone, through prairie grass and around numerous small ground-level rocks, a hiker will find three rather small stonehole rocks in a line on a ridge, and interestingly, there is a noticeable “missing spot” (no stonehole rock) within the line of rocks—corresponding with the code-stone. In other words, the code-stone actually shows in miniature the same pattern of stonehole rocks on the nearby ridge. Now, for another clue to the mystery, a fourth small stonehole rock—not in line with the other three stonehole rocks—has a piece cracked-off (from a stonehole), and the chunk of rock may have been placed on the ground in the doubly-indicated “empty spot.”

Just to be clear, this opinion essay is addressing the very real possibility of an attempted Scandinavian land-claim deep within America’s interior, from a probable post-Viking but pre-Kensington Runestone timeframe—roughly between AD 1050 and 1350.

A mysterious Viking-age Norse code was decrypted a few years ago, according to a February 2014 article in ScienceNordic. “It’s like solving a riddle,” the code-breaker, Runologist Jonas Nordby, was quoted as saying. He also made the following comments: “It was very common to use codes,” “People challenged one another with codes,” and “Many think the Vikings used cryptography to conceal secret messages.” However, I need to quickly point out that Nordby’s comments were dealing with Norse runes, not with Norse stoneholes. (The takeaway I want to exploit here is that the Norse enjoyed using codes—and sometimes in stone.)

In the same article mentioned above, Henrik Williams, a professor at Uppsala University’s Department of Scandinavian Languages and a Swedish expert on runes, was quoted as agreeing that Nordby’s discovery is important, and he said, “Above all, it helps us understand that there were more codes than we were aware of.” Williams went on to say, “They tell us much about people’s playfulness and innovation. We come closer to the thoughts of people living at the time through understanding their codes.”

Though Williams, too, was specifically referring to runes, we can see by example how this historic Scandinavian tendency towards playfulness with codes might have been employed by medieval Norsemen visiting Minnesota. But they apparently used stoneholes instead of runes to encode this “stone map,” or code-stone—which, for all intents and purposes, seems to be pointing to where something is buried only a mere half-hour’s drive from known medieval stonehole clusters and Norse petroglyphs just across the border in South Dakota.

So it looks like a medieval Scandinavian with a hammer and chisel may have offered “the future” a coded message within a small cluster of stonehole rocks, directly south from where a river empties into the beginnings of the Minnesota River—as though the landscape was surveyed and marked by Europeans, but hundreds of years before the time of Columbus!

Finally, readers, here’s the wild card I’ve been saving for revealing this seemingly wild claim about Scandinavians visiting Minnesota during medieval times: a regular metal detector will not get a “hit” on the spot indicated by the Norse code-stone, but my ferrous-only (iron, steel) detector gets a strong hit every time. This tells us that something made of metal is buried, and quite deeply.

I sincerely believe that whatever was purposely buried, hidden within stonehole rocks on the lonely ridge near Appleton, Minnesota—and well before the time of Columbus—has everything to do with “waterway surveying” in relation to a Scandinavian land claim. But for now the ground is frozen, awaiting both springtime and a thawing from the academics and the scholars, those State of Minnesota officials currently in charge of our history. For we are talking about a “miracle of discovery” on state land (quail habitat), so the State of Minnesota will call the shots on this one.

This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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