I have always been interested in the Vikings, especially their visits to North America and the encounters with the natives (Skraelings). As if to spur this on, I was commissioned to build a model of a Viking Longship for our Local Scandinavian Cultural Center. Near the same time I obtained a copy of the book Westviking by Farley Mowat (1965) and after reading it, Peg and I decided to take a vacation to Newfoundland where we would visit L Anse Aux Meadows, the only verified Norse site in North America. What we found there and the subsequent results of my research is remarkable.
|Fourteenth century woodcut|
I had asked in an earlier blog to be proven wrong about any extensive Norse presence along the Red River system or west of it and I am happy to say that has been done. We begin our examination at the Whetstone River in north-eastern South Dakota at the longitude of between -97.045 and -96.519.
An item that has become a footprint of those we seek is a stone with a hand chiseled hole approximately 1 1/2 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep. The hole is usually in the shape of a softened triangle. These stones are known by various names but I shall call all of them Mooring Stones.
Very simply, if you consider these stones in the practical eyes of the Norse, you determine what a hole in a stone can be used for. It can be used to put things in. An iron ring can tie boats up. Not neccesarily only boats. Maybe they would also include horses. Maybe livestock. Maybe prisoners. They could also be used as tent anchors. Remember that the Norse were very utilitarian. If a wooden post was put in a hole it could display a flag or a banner. The anchored pole could be used to hold up a canopy or simply be a marker. It is possible these stones were used for all or some of the above.
Along the coast of Norway and Sweden these stones are known to have been used to moor boats in the fourteenth century. See the woodcut. Comparable stones have been found in Iceland, where Valdimar Samuelsson has been doing research on them. He determined they were also used there as property markers. As a matter of fact, the Gragas states, "If you have trouble with your neighbor over the boundary stones, you are to call your warranty man and you are to meet at the fester haell (mooring stakes). These property markers are also mentioned in the Norwegian lawbook equivalent.
These stones have also been found in Wales, Sweden and Greenland. I am sure as this field of research progresses they will be plentiful in their appearance elsewhere as well. We are only going to deal with the North American mooring stones however. Even then, to pinpoint the exact location of every one of these on the continent would literally takes hundreds of hours of effort and a huge map so I will cover many of them in general areas.
The first group we are going to look at are in the Whetstone River area of northern South Dakota as mentioned above. We are going to rely on the research of Judy Rudebusch, Bruce Kunze, Robert Johnson and Janey Westin. There are a number of other people researching and helping in this field. The participants here and at other areas are growing regularly.
Judy and Bruce have located and marked over 70 stones. They have been found at water's edge, inland, on hills and even buried deep in the earth. They have been catalogued, tested, molded and the surrounding areas scoured for other possible artifacts.
Latex rubber castings were made of some of these stones. When pulled out and examined, it was determined that the interior of the chiseling showed great age wear. One of the stones called the Settje Stone at Bullhead Lake, SD was found to contain iron rust particles. In one area a drinking horn was carved into a stone and a knife into another. This is really not surprising if we are looking for the Norse. One can imagine if they were encamped in any particular location for any length of time, they would then start doing things to the stone, as is exampled by these carved stones. At Sop's Arm, which has a large collection of mooring stones, someone did a wonderful job of what I call a seal. Page 21 of Kent Budden's book Vinland Discovery (the Unfolding Story) has an excellent picture of it.
At one of the mooring stone sites, a stone hammer and a scraper were discovered nearby. It cannot be determined whether or not these artifacts are related to the stones but it may indicate possible contact with the local inhabitants.
Our researchers will readily admit some of the stone placement may not neccesarily be accurate. It is very likely some of the stones could have been moved by early settlers in their efforts to clear the land. Holes may have been created for the purpose of blasting a stone apart with black powder by these same pioneers, perhaps also for the purpose of clearing their land or building foundations for their houses.
January 15, 2018
Mooring Stones Part Two
We must consider the question of the age of mooring stones. What time frame can they be assigned to? The answer is simple, they can practically be of any era from the present back. The one comment I would place here is that hand chiseled holes (semi-triangular) and drilled holes (round, whether by hand or tool) must be examined separately. The Norse, although using drills in wood, would not drill stone. It would be too hard on their tools and for them it was far easier to chisel. It is a known fact that early settlers made some of these holes for blasting purposes and although this could deal with a great portion of the stones that exist today I do not think that covers all of them, especially those at waters edge and those found buried underground.
|Mooring ring attached|
Can these mooring stones be absolutely determined to be Norse? No. Can they be absolutely determined NOT to be Norse? No. The fact that there are similar items in known areas of the Old World inhabited by the Norse is certainly a factor that leans heavily towards the probability that at least some of these items are the real McCoy. Dating of these mooring stones is also of great subjectivity. When were they first used? When were they last used? One fact remains in place. For these items to have no medieval connotation would require every single one of them, on a case by case basis, to be disproven.
The discussion on mooring stones ranges on with many very intelligent pros and cons being brought to the table. As a matter of interest, many who are actually proponents of the mooring stone's Norse affiliations are playing the part of devil's advocate with the intent of presenting some solid scientific arguments against these same connotations. So far, for every argument 'against', an argument 'for' will counter.
Even experimental archaeology has played their part in this field. It has been determined that with a hand operated drill a person should be able to make one of these holes in an hour and a half. Hand chiseling however is considerably longer, taking seven to eight hours. There have been reports of much faster times by earlier settlers who chiseled some of these holes and I am sure experts in this field could cut out a hole in a record period of time. Even so, it would take at least a couple hours to accomplish. Enough of an effort that would mean making these holes was not a casual endeavor.
Have you ever considered how an iron ring can stay firmly anchored into a chiseled hole? Certainly not with crazy glue! Another scientific study of the mooring stones has determined that the iron spike placed in the hole was also constructed of a softened triangular shape. (Easily done by a blacksmith.) When twisted it would be wedged securely into place. Photographs quite obviously show their durability.
Some interesting reading material on this field is The Last Kings of Norse America by Robert Johnson and Janey Westin. These two researchers not only look at mooring stones but do their own examinations of the KRS and the Spirit Pond Runestone. Following the research of Hjalmar Holand they put forward the theory of a Norse colony called the Graeneveldi that inhabited the area we just looked at. We will refer to them further when doing our examination of the above mentioned runestones.
Here are some good web links regarding mooring stones:
Geographical location (estimated range): 45.303,-97.045 to -96.519
February 15, 2018
Before we continue further with our examination of artifacts I think this is a fitting time to look at a gentleman by the name of Hjalmar Holand. He plays a critical part in the unravelling of the Norse mystery of the Graeneveldi and he will be referred to a few more times in this dissertation.
|Hjalmar Holand 1900|
A firm advocate of the genuinity of the stone from the outset, it is very likely the KRS would have been lost forever if not for him. After having been declared a forgery the Ohmans took the runestone back home where it sat in a shed unnoticed for a number of years, relegated to being nothing more than a local curiosity. It is most likely that it would have eventually been forgotten. Holand however, immediately recognized the runic writing on the stone and ventured his own translation of what it said. His findings intrigued him so much he then made a detailed examination of the surrounding area, documenting and photographing many of the artifacts that have turned up. Many items were detailed with affidavits by the finders.
He also began researching the Mooring Stones of Minnesota, then recording their locations based on the premise that a Norse expedition came to the Minnesota area. Holand managed to trace a path of stones from the Red River to the KRS site. He also tracked a second grouping of these stones from Kensington. The fact that he successfully located these stones along his suggested route indicates that there must have been something correct in his theory. This brings up some interesting thoughts.
An expedition travelling in this country by waterway, or possibly by flooded plains (we used to raft around our back yard in the spring), would be using shallow draft boats. Large ships are hard to picture (unless they were built locally). So then, mooring rings are impractical, unless they were there for more than just the simple purpose of tying up boats. We already know they were multi-purpose. Perhaps these mooring stones were left as indicators for future visitors or colonists such as our road signs are for us today. They seemed to work for Holand.
This scholar did not limit his curiosity to only Minnesota but also looked into the New England area where he carefully researched the Newport Tower. It was his firm belief that this area was the Vinland of the sagas. His travels even took him to Europe where he was able to confirm many of his theories through detailed comparison, old documents and highly accredited experts. He was also one of the first to associate the Paul Knudsen Expedition to the KRS.
Holand wrote several books over the years that document his research and theories. Much of his information is very well backed up and what we know today can be based on his fundamental groundwork. A couple of his books that provide some interesting information:
Explorations In America Before Columbus
A Pre Columbian Crusade To America
Like many scholars, Holand did some excellent research. Most of his theories are quite viable. But also, as with every bit of research there are errors. Again, Holand was hampered by the times and did not have access to a lot of the facts we have today. LAM was unknown to him. So was the Spirit Pond Runestone and the Whetstone River mooring stones.
Thus with Holand's help, in our chronicle of possible artifacts and sites, we can specify Mooring stones in Minnesota. In Pope County alone, Leland Pederson has catalogued and mapped over 40 stones. It is generally believed that there are over 100 stones in the state of Minnesota alone.
March 15, 2018
As I continue researching and cataloguing what is encountered (and try to make sense of it all) I find it neccesary to break up the results into specific geographic areas simply due to the volume of data that is being assembled. By doing this, our entire Norse presence becomes much more lucid as well. Within our examination we find that not only the Norse came here but numerous other cultures or groups. They have left their own identifiable footprints on this continent.
Ranging from ancient Sumerians, Phonecians, Minoans, Egyptians, Eutruscans, Romans, Celts, Africans, Hebrews, Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asians, early Christians, Welsh, Irish and Knights Templar we find evidence that all were here to some extent. The melting pot of pre-Columbian America was just as well mixed as we are in our own society of today. Even though they are not Norse, it is important to be able to conceive just how extensive PCA (Pre-Columbian America) history really is and how completely different it is from what we were taught in school. Once we can gain this concept we can place our subjects, the Norse, more appropriately in our journey.
Later I am going to touch upon some of the artifacts and sites that have been found with an attempt to filter out some of the cultures that we encounter. Other items will be listed further in this blog where I consider them pertinent to our own examinations of the Norse.
The history of this world seems to revolve around wars and conflict. Ultimately, one society will conquer another and we thrive on the telling. However, there is also a vast history of non-turbulent contact between peoples and although usually not as dynamic, it is just as extensive and plays just as important a part in our history as does the warrior. When studying the peaceful contact between the old world and the new world cultures we find several factors that are fairly consistent as the groups meet, mingle and interrelate. Their offspring are mixed and subsequent modified societies emerge that are not one or the other but bits of both. Take the Metis for example.
Most predominant of these factors indicating blending is the use of 'loan' words where similar sounding words both have the same meaning. Our own language is loaded with these. Thursday = Thor's Dagr, brother = broder, saga = saga. My favorite is Norse to Iroquois: Loki.
Tied in with this is architectural similarities. We can compare building and construction styles, design, use of similar materials and matching date ranges. We have Sumerian Ziggurats in Inca country, Mandans building Viking style fortresses while Hopewellians build Celtic mounds and furnaces.
The cultures of the Old World have journals and histories while the New World people have their own histories, legends and myths. The Mandan claim they came from Europe, A chief by the name of 'Cornhair' terrorizes a neighboring tribe and many nations tell of a founding father coming from the sunrise in a large canoe.
The structure of various cultures can be compared from legal codes and practices to the similar status of women in a society. In the Norse example, we have outlawry and compensation for crime; divorce and landowning. Government infastructure can be compared. How many native cultures elect their chieftains?
|The Knox Halberd (photo:Holand)|
When all of these factors are blended together with the addition of physical evidence, we find that they will leave a legacy of their own. We arrive at a cultural footprint.
A good book that takes a serious look at the visitation or colonization of other civilizations is The Lost Colonies of Ancient America published in 2014 by Frank Joseph. He does a detailed breakdown of all the cultures we have mentioned above.
A website to have a look at is:
We can now begin our examination of the Norse presence in the west. We will separate this out to north midwest and south midwest. Since we started with Hjalmar in the north, let us continue that way.
|A Contemporary Tobacco Cutter (photo:Holand)|
Now we come to some iron artifacts.
Mount Vernon, South Dakota
The Knox Halberd 1946
Richard Knox found this medieval weapon near the edge of a slough. Holand undertook to have a full metalurgical analysis done to it and the halberd was determined to be of wrought iron with an absolute age of no less than 200 years.
There are more halberds coming up that were found in different locations and time frames. All are identical and have been identified as Norse by the University Museum of Oslo, Norway. There are also illustrations of them in Historia De Gentibis Septentrionalibus by Bishop Olaus Magnus 1555 where they are identified as ceremonial and carried by the king's bodyguard.
|Iron Fishing Tine at the Runestone Museum, Alexandria,MN|
Thus the importance of the metallurgical examination on this specific piece.
The Knox halberd was found in 1946. The other artifacts were found at pre 1930 dates. The halberd was cleaned by the finder after discovery.
An important point to keep in mind is the wear on the item. An original halberd would be in the shape of a crescent moon. The Knox halberd has an extensive amount of wear at the high point and appears to have been caused by a repeated slicing motion. One can see a slightly different pattern of wear on the tobacco cutter. It is synonymous with what one would expect when cutting stocks of long, leafy plants over a period of time, especially on an item of low grade metal.
Geographical location: 43.713,-98.269
|Horn spoon at the Runestone Museum, Alexandria,MN|
May 15, 2018
LaBelle Creek, North Dakota
North of the mooring stones at Whetstone River is LaBelle Creek, North Dakota. One of the metal pieces we encounter is a firestriker (or firesteel). This piece was found in 1870 by Ole Jevning. It is similar to others that we are about to examine and has been determined to be Norse.
Mooring stones have also been found here.
Geographical location: 45.942,-97.401
At Red River, South Dakota a horn spoon was found in a burial mound. Although it could be Norse there is just as much of a possibility that it is Indigenous. Many of the native populations used spoons made of horn. Some of them are quite elaborate and the artwork is beautiful.
|Original photo of halberd showing the wooden handle by Holand|
June 15, 2018
Buxton, North Dakota, Frog Point
Here is our second halberd.
This was found by E. O. Estenson who was a boy at the time, coming west with his father to search for land to farm. Frog Point was a Hudson Bay Company trading post along the Red River and the sight of the first village in Traill County.
One day, while exploring the area, Estenson came across a handle sticking out of the eroded riverbank. It was 2 feet from the grassy surface top of the prairie. Buried at the other end of the handle was the iron halberd.
|Frog Point halberd at the Runestone Museum, Alexandria,MN|
The blade of this weapon shows extensive use and was most likely used for chopping or prying before being discarded.
One can clearly see that this halberd was made of very high grade iron due to the lack of deterioration. This indicates some very top quality workmanship as would befit an owner of high social status. At its time, this weapon would have been quite an expensive item.
Geographical location: 47.621,-96.884
July 15, 2018
Here are some recent corrections and addendums to the above posts. I recently took a trip to the Kensington Runestone and the surrounding area. I visited Frog Point, Hawley, Cormorant Lake, Sauk Center as well as the Museum in Alexandria. The KRS site was also looked at in great detail. I was fortunate to acquire more information and photos of many of the items we are looking at. This project is turning out to be substancial and I guarantee monthly blog entries
|Frog Point Riverbank. Note the erosion. (author)|
First, regarding Feb. 15 - Hjalmar Holand: Holand died in 1962, one year after LAM was found. At least he lived to know that many of his theories were sound. RIP Hjalmar.
The April 15 - Knox Halberd: The genuinity of the halberds has been questioned with the crux being a comparison with a contemporary plug tobacco cutter. Here are more details on the tobacco cutter and some corrections from our original blog:
The American Tobacco Company was formed in 1890. They produced a brand of plug chewing tobacco in 1896 named Battle Axe Plug Tobacco. As part of the promotion of this item they produced a tobacco cutter patterned after the Frog Point halberd. I believe they had two production runs of this item.
The earlier of these cutters was composed of two pieces. The main piece and the blade. This version can be identified by a heavy ring bottom at the base of the cutter where the wood attaches. It appears that most of these have screws to attach the blade where there were rivets on the original piece. The second batch (Hjalmar photo) appear to be of cast iron, single piece. The dating is in question but would be between 1900 and 1930.
The April 15 - Fishing Spear Tine came from Wilmot, South Dakota.
Geographical location: 45.409,-96.865
|The Labelle Firestriker. (Runestone Museum)|
Regarding the May 15 - Labelle Firestriker: A further examination of the firestriker (pictured at right) questions the Norse origin. The shape is not correct. Although there are many firestrikers of unusual patterns that originate from the Novgorod area, they are all two dimensional. The Labelle striker is three dimensional. It is possible it could be an eighteenth century trade item.
One point in its favor however is the age patina. It is similar to that of the halberd. This item needs more research and eventually testing.
More information on the June 15 - Frog Point Halberd. I was able to examine this piece more closely. It is indeed an item of high quality metal. The weapon was made in three pieces. Two decorative halves housed the blade. They were forged and riveted into place to secure it.
Since handle pieces and blade are of identical metal composition we are confident that the entire halberd was forged. I suspect the shape was originally taken from a mold and worked to perfection. Four rivets were put in place to hold the metal pieces together with another rivet to secure the wood handle. Somehow or other they would have been burnished to appear as a single piece.
One can imagine what this would have looked like when original. The metal would have been brilliant. I expect in a wilderness area it would have stood out quite
|Another view of the Frog Point halberd. (Runestone Museum)|
There is indeed still wood in the weapon. It appears to have been cut off flush with the metal. It is a prime candidate for carbon dating.
The methods used in the manufacture of this weapon are indicative of a master blacksmith as would befit a king's armorer.
....to be continued.