The Kensington runestone of Minnesota is a rather obvious 19th century fake. But in a recent paper in Saga och Sed 2010, Mats G. Larsson shows something less obvious: the hidden signature of the stone’s carver, who also was its finder.
Olof Öhman came from Forsa in Hälsingland, central Sweden. He claimed to have found the stone among the roots of an aspen tree he had felled with his son. Now Larsson points to the unique rune for Ö on the stone, which is an O with a small N inside. This looks a lot like O-n, an abbreviation of the man’s surname. And as it turns out, Öhman came from a farmstead named Ön, “the island”, which is likely where his name came from. This is pretty suggestive. But the clincher is found in some simple cryptography.
Öhman owned a copy of the book Den kunskapsrike skolmästaren, which contains a short section on numeral cryptograms. One of the first things that stick out about the Kensington inscription is the unparallelled preponderance of numbers in it. They form the following sequence:
8 – 22 – 2 – 10 – 10 – 14 – 13 – 62
To get a comprehensible message, Larsson flips this sequence over:
62 – 13 – 14 – 10 – 10 – 2 – 22 – 8
The inscription has twelve lines. Larsson counts the words from the left on odd-numbered lines and from the right on even-numbered lines, arriving at the following:
13: mans (jumping up to the penultimate line when the end of the last line is reached)
22: ved (jumping down to the second line when the end of the first line is reached)
“Öh mans fan vi ved hade ved sten”, or in English, “The Öhmans found. We kept/collected firewood at the stone.”
So Olof Öhman probably told the truth when he said he found the stone while collecting firewood. And then he carved an inscription on it.
Larsson sums up (and I translate),
“… this is not strictly a case of forgery, but of a practical joke gone wrong through the gullibility of others. … Öhman himself may have been both surprised and a little disappointed to find that his hints about who made the inscription were never noted, and as time passed it became successively more difficult for him to confess. After his rune stone gained acceptance in wider circles through skilful marketing by others, it became almost impossible for him to come clean with his honour intact.
According to John Gran’s son [J. Gran was Öhman’s neighbour], Olof Öhman once expressed a strong wish to write something that would fool society, the people and particularly academics, towards which he was extra hostile. The end result of his prank was not however quite what he had hoped for: academics in the runic field were not fooled, but non-academics were.”
Larsson, M.G.. 2010. Vem ristade Kensingtonrunstenen? Saga och sed 2010. Uppsala.