In defense of the Kensington Runestone: stoneholes

Photo: Bob Voyles A stonehole in the rock locally called (wrongly) the Viking Altar Rock, near Sauk Centre, Minn.

Photo: Bob Voyles
A stonehole in the rock locally called (wrongly) the Viking Altar Rock, near Sauk Centre, Minn.

Bob Voyles
Bloomington, Minn.

This essay is my personal take on the “who, what, when, where, and why” of medieval Norse “stoneholes” in America.

Back in the 14th century and probably even earlier, exploring Scandinavians hand-chiseled stoneholes into dozens of rocks in two main areas within America’s Upper Midwest. This was primarily done to mark waterways and to take up land.

Examples of these quarter-sized, slightly triangular-shaped holes in rocks can be traced back to medieval Iceland, where they were chiseled several inches deep and used for mooring ships and securing land boundaries. These typical medieval stoneholes can be found in other nearby countries as well, including Scotland. A recognizably similar plan for surveying and claiming land deep in America—using stoneholes in rocks—is necessary for understanding how stoneholes’ presence in the Minnesota/Dakota region perfectly coincides with the general era of the Kensington Runestone, a stone document found in Minnesota in 1898 and dated 1362.

My own burgeoning belief in the authenticity of the KRS originally had to do with my curiosity over these many mysterious stoneholes hand-chiseled into rocks. There is no doubt that they were hand chiseled, even by KRS naysayers.Native Americans had access to copper, but copper could not carve these stoneholes. Iron would be required, and the natives didn’t have iron. The medieval stoneholes are slightly triangular because it is not possible to make a perfectly round stonehole with a hand chisel. Later modern drilling could make perfectly round holes, and this is how old and new can be distinguished from one another.

I quickly discovered that the overly-simplistic academic point of view was to dismiss the many stoneholes as “leftovers” from pioneer Scandinavian farmers forgetting to blast the rocks… after laboriously chiseling out the holes.

Minnesotan Tom Trow fomented this notion in an article he wrote many years ago. Trow has effectively muddied the scientific conversation about these many stoneholes in this region by many years ago proclaiming them to be leftovers from immigrant blasting. As far as I know, he has never backed away from this position. In this vein, “fringe history debunker” and blog host Jason Colavito picked up on Trow’s abject disinformation about these stoneholes and further nourished this myth of “Scandinavian forgetfulness” forward to current times.

Thanks to the work of many “stonehole enthusiasts” over the years, beginning with early KRS advocate Hjalmar Holand, much is known about them today. Stoneholes are, I believe, finally being recognized as the very glue holding medieval Norse history together up here in this region. But we have seen that the first thing “debunkers” of the KRS want to do is to summarily dismiss these dozens of authentic medieval stoneholes, and this matters quite a lot, especially since the KRS’s discovery site (Runestone Hill) is literally surrounded by a dozen or more of these simple but enigmatic Norse evidences.

I see three distinct groupings of evidences related to the discovery of the KRS (by Minnesota farmer Olof Ohman): metal weapons, petroglyphs, and stoneholes. Obviously, all these evidences can and should be further studied, just as the related geology of the stone and the runic language (and the message itself) inscribed on the stone document should continue to be studied. Answers can continue to come in from all these areas, with truth being the final goal—whatever it points to.

I don’t mind being known as a “stonehole nut.” Stoneholes made good signposts along the waterways and were useful in helping to identify desirable land areas for possible future development. The first thing serious researchers into the KRS should do is recognize that the dozens of medieval stoneholes up in this region are real—not leftovers from Scandinavian immigrant farmers forgetting to blast, en masse.

I, along with thousands of others, believe that the medieval Norse history surrounding us up here is valid. I have learned that Norse explorers even before the time of the KRS did in fact find an “ocean-to-ocean waterway convergence” near the Minnesota/Dakota border, and they acted upon this discovery by chiseling many stoneholes in an attempt to claim land there.

I would also like to point out that many early scholars and researchers found the KRS to be genuine. In fact, many dignified scholars believed it to be authentic, from the time it was first discovered until now.

So in my opinion, it looks like medieval Scandinavian stoneholes—and the notion of a genuine medieval Kensington Runestone up here in far-inland America—are not silly ideas at all. Medieval stoneholes appear to be reflecting truthful and insightful American history…albeit, very esoteric history.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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