AVM Runestone

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The AVM Runestone is a Viking runestone forgery. The stone is approximately 43-inch-long rock on an island found a quarter of a mile from the site of another Viking runestone forgery the Kensington Runestone [1]. Both falsified artifacts tie into regional myths regarding Viking presence and pre-Columbian contact in Minnesota. The AVM stone forgery was done in 1985 near the Kensington Runestone site by several college students at the University of Minnesota, including Kari Ellen Gade and Jana K. Schulman [2].

Discovery

Robert Berg

The AVM Runestone was initially discovered nearly ten years after the forgery in 1985 by Robert Berg. Berg considers himself an amateur Viking researcher. When he came across the stone in 1994 he almost immediately pronounced it as a fake. Berg does, however, believe in the legitimacy of the Kensington Runestone. Berg, however, did not announce his discovery of the forged runestone to the public because he considered it “an obvious forgery”[3]. In 2001 it was discovered a second time by Janey Westin, who actively chose not to listen to Berg’s assertions that the rune stone was not a legitimate Viking artifact.

Janey Westin

Janey Westin is a professional stone carver from Minneapolis [1]. She discovered the AVM stone in 2001 while hiking around Kensington. Upon discovery, Westin claimed that the stone had been carved by Viking or Norse explorers in the year 1363. Westin has no formal training as a historian or as an archaeologist. All of her claims were instinctual, or a result of taking the stone’s inscription at face value. It was Westin that said that the AVM inscription on the stone, for which it is named, stands for ‘’Ave Maria’’. She also believed that the legitimacy of the AVM stone proved that the Kensington stone must also be authentic.

Comparisons

There are many similarities regarding the forgeries of the two runestones, despite there being around a one hundred year gap of time between them. Both stones feature the inscription AVM which stands for ave maria and was commonly used in inscriptions during the 14th century, which is the century that both forgeries reference. The AVM stone is confirmed to have been carved by locals, to see if it would be academically investigated. As well as being a mockery directed at those who believe in the legitimacy of the Kensington Rune Stone. The Kensington Rune Stone was never confirmed to have been carved by Olaf Olhman but he is the person most likely to have carved it. While Olhman was originally from Sweden, he had been living in the area around Kensington for some time.

Scientific Involvement

AVM Stone

The scholarly and archaeological community were all consistently doubtful of the AVM Runestone find. Mark Dudzik, a state archaeologist who was asked to comment on the AVM stone when it was unearthed said that the Kensington runestone, and American-Viking runestones in general, “[have] not held up well under professional scientific scrutiny."[4]. Additionally when the stone was found a scientific testing team was formed, the ‘’Kensington Runestone Scientific Testing Team’’, this team included Janey Westin despite her lack of relevant scientific training. This team hired three archaeologists to examine the site where the AVM stone was found. One of the archaeologists involved in the dig was Mike Michlovic. Michlovic is a professor of Anthropology and Earth Science at Minnesota State University, Moorhead. When he was interviewed at the time of the excavation he described himself as an open-minded skeptic. According to the Star Tribune: ‘’“Using standard archaeological procedures, the scientists spent much of July 25 digging nine test holes, from 12 to 27 inches deep. Team members hoped the archaeologists would find evidence of human activity in medieval times. They did not. They found two quartz flakes, probably chipped from arrowheads, and other evidence of Indian habitation but no clues of early Norsemen.‘’“[4] The excavation produced no evidence of medieval or Viking contact at the site of the AVM Stone’s discovery. Initially, no runic experts were consulted regarding the carving, for the medieval period or any other. Nor did Janey Westin’s further survey of the surrounding area result in any new discoveries legitimate or otherwise. The stone was found at 1,370 ft in elevation which would have been underwater in 1363, the year that was carved into the stone. Pyrite weathering on the stone also indicates a date much more recent than 1363. As pyrite oxidizes rapidly, to soluble ferrous sulfate, it would have been evident to a trained geologist the relative recentness of the rune markings on the stone. [3]

Kensington Runestone

The Kensington and AVM Runestones are closely linked in academia. The discovery of the AVM Stone so close to the site of the Kensington Stone caused a revival of investigations into the legitimacy of the Kensington Stone. However, this revival effort included a small group of scientists led by geologist Scott Wolter which doomed it to be fraught with misinformation.[4]Scott Wolter is a well-known figure in the pseudoarchaeological community due to the television program America Unearthed which he hosts. Wolter claimed to have examined the runestone closely, he incorrectly concluded that the Kensington Runestone had to have been older than 1898 when it was first discovered by Olaf Olhman, and that it was most likely from the Viking Age. After the forgers came forward Wolter insisted that “he was troubled by nagging doubts about the runes before Gade and Schulman came forward, but the revelation of the hoax doesn't make him happy”. [2]

Vikings in North America

Chronology

The Viking Age was between 793 and 1066 AD ending with the Battle of Hastings beginning the period of the Norman conquest of England and Scotland.[5] Vikings may have increased their range of travel around AD 900, partially due to the general affluence of their culture at home during this time. There was also a warming trend that cleared the arctic regions of much of drift ice which further enabled travel.[6]The Viking Age in Scandinavia is considered to have ended with the establishment of a Christian monarchy in the Scandinavian countries. “Following this period raids ceased and the political and economic integration of Scandinavia, Europe, and the North Atlantic settlements moved forward rapidly.”[7] While the Icelandic Sagas were largely being set to writing during the 14th century, Viking excursions were largely limited to Europe at this time. During the time that the AVM stone was dated, the 14th century. The Viking Age had ended and the Little Ice Age had begun (1250–1850 A.D.).[6]. Removing one of the main circumstances that had allowed the Vikings to travel to Canada in the first place, the breaking up of the ice flows. Thus making it incredibly unlikely that Norse people would have been traveling to North America at that time.

Goddard Site

A Viking coin was found at the Goddard site in Brooklin, Maine. The coin dated to A.D. 1070.[8] Goddard is a prehistoric Native American site. The date of 1070 A.D. is the closest North America comes to the 14th century dates expressed on the Kensington and AVM Stone forgeries. The Viking coin was the only artifact that was Norse in origin and appears on the site due to contemporary trade going on between Viking visitors and Native American populations relatively close to the date on the coin.

Viking Sagas
	“Schools have long taught that Lief Erickson discovered three western lands: Helluland, Markland, and Vinland and that these lands, or at very least the last mentioned, can be identified with the North American continent. The discovery of these lands, it is true, rests on no more firm foundation than certain sagas: minstrels' tales which passed from generation to generation for centuries before being written down; but the evidence seems trustworthy, and has generally been accepted. It is when attempts are made to pinpoint these lands that the scholars come to blows”[9]

It is largely through the Icelandic Sagas that generations of historians and archaeologists have attempted to argue for Viking settlements throughout the United States. Theories regarding the locations of the mythical lands referenced in the sagas largely place sites along the eastern coast of North America. People believed that the location of places like Vinland could be as far north as the Canadian islands nearest to Greenland such as the Queen Elizabeth Islands, where no artifacts have, as of yet been found. To Baffin Island where there have been carvings done by the now extinct Thule culture, whose descendants are the indigenous people of Canada, that depict figures that look like Vikings. As they have long beards and prominent noses, which the Thule would not likely have seen among their own people. Baffin Island is now believed to be the land referred to in the Sagas as Helluland. [7]There were also some who hypothesized that the Vikings had made it as far south as Virginia. Markland at this time is being associated with the geographic region of Labrador within the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

L' Anse aux Meadows

This site is at the northern tip of Newfoundland and is at present the only permanent Viking settlement in North America. This site is associated with “Vinland” from the Icelandic Sagas.[9]Prior to the site’s discovery Vinland was commonly associated with New England. This site was first discovered in 1960 by explorer Helge Ingstad and archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad. Two excavations occurred since its discovery at that time. One of the excavations took place from 1961-1968 and the other from 1973-1976. Eight walled structures were found at the site, as well as several hundred Viking artifacts. The radiocarbon date produced for the artifacts places the site as being occupied around A.D. 1000. Iron was smelted at this site by its Viking inhabitants and the material culture left behind at the site greatly resemble the Viking sites on Greenland. [10]

Conclusions

The discovery of the AVM Runestone further invigorated the cultural myth of that many Minnesotans are enamored with, their connections to the ancient Nords who traveled large parts of the globe including North America. While many present-day people from Minnesota do have connections to areas like Sweden, Scandinavia, Finland, Denmark, or Iceland. These ties are more recent than the Middle Ages. However, these Viking excursions into the Atlantic did not reach as far inland as Minnesota. There have already been several forgeries of Scandanavian Rune Stones, and despite the creators of these forgeries largely created to mock those who believed Vikings were in Minnesota, these artifacts have only further inflamed peoples beliefs. There are still many statues honoring the supposed Viking settlers throughout the state of Minnesota, and the state’s football team mascot is still a deeply historically inaccurate horned helmet wearing blond Viking. Since this myth is perpetuated throughout the whole state there is little hope of the myth being truly debunked.