Scott Wolter believes that the Kensington Runestone is a real historic artifact of the 14th century — and that he has the scientific evidence to prove it. He will be presenting that evidence as part of a Friday, Oct. 1, appearance at Detroit Lakes' Historic Holmes Theatre.
A forensic geologist and petrographer by trade, Wolter has spent much of his professional life examining rock and concrete failure issues in the construction industry.
"It's basically performing autopsies on concrete and rock," he said in a recent interview. "That's the layman's description of what I do."
Yet it is his work on the Kensington Runestone, a 202-pound rock with an inscription that tells of European visitors to Minnesota in 1362, that has brought Wolter his most lingering fame.
"In July of 2000, which is now 21 years ago ... this large slab of rectangular-shaped rock was brought into my laboratory," he said. "I didn't know what this rock was. Of course it was the Kensington Runestone, but at the time I'd never heard of it."
The slab was discovered in 1898, entrenched in the roots of an aspen tree by Olof Öhman on his farm near Kensington, Minn., about 15 miles southwest of Alexandria. But some claim Öhman's find to be a hoax and debate over the stone's authenticity has gone on for decades.
Though the person who brought the runestone to him "was clearly an advocate of the stone," Wolter said, he warned the man that he was not — that he would present any scientific evidence he found, whether it was in favor of the stone's authenticity, or not.
"I said, 'Look, you need to understand something; I'm an independent. I'll do this analysis for you, but .... when I come back, I may give you news that you're not going to like,'" he recalled. "I just wanted him to understand I'm not an advocate for anybody; I'm an advocate for the truth."
What Wolter discovered has inspired more than two decades of scientific research — and the publication of several books, both on his own and with research partners like the late Richard Nielsen.
Nielsen, a respected runic scholar, co-authored the book, "The Kensington Runestone: Compelling New Evidence" with him in 2005.
'I trust the rocks'
By comparing the runestone with some old tombstones of similar mineral composition that could be definitively tied to a specific point in time, Wolter said, he concluded that "the weathering of the inscription on the runestone is older than 200 years" — which, he further concluded, meant that claims of the runestone being a late-19th century hoax, rather than a mid-14th century artifact, could not be true.
"Therefore, the only other conclusion you can draw is that it has to be genuine," Wolter added. "It has to be what it says it is. And I wrote that in my report."
Runestone skeptics loudly protested his findings. "That's when the trouble started," he said. "I was questioned, I was criticized, I was attacked. And I said, 'Look, I'm not perfect. I make mistakes like anybody else. Where did I make a mistake? Point out the parts that you have a problem with, and if I made a mistake, I'll fix it. Well, I didn't make a mistake. That wasn't the issue. They just didn't like the result."
What is on the Kensington Runestone?
The generally accepted translation of the runes found on the stone reads: “We are 8 Goths and 22 Norwegians on an exploration journey from Vinland through the West. We had camp by a lake with 2 skerries [small rocky islands], one day’s journey north from this stone. We were out and fished one day. After we came home we found 10 of our men red with blood and dead. AVM [Ave Virgo Maria, or Hail, Virgin Mary] save us from evil. We have 10 of our party by the sea to look after our ships, 14 days’ journey from this island. Year 1362.”
Wolter "had no idea" that there was any controversy surrounding the runestone when he did his initial analysis. But that discovery didn't deter him. In fact, it made him decide to dig even deeper.
"Being a former linebacker, who went to (University of Minnesota Duluth) on a football scholarship, I don't back down when people challenge me," Wolter said. "I work in a hard science discipline, and I'm good at it. I trust the rocks — the rocks have never, ever lied to me."
In the 20 years since, Wolter has consulted with some of the world's top forensic scholars and researchers, discovering what he believes to be definitive evidence that the runestone is linked to the medieval Knights Templar.
His research has taken him all over the United States, and the world, eventually leading him to international fame as both a published author and television host. In 2008, Wolter was asked to host a TV documentary titled "The Holy Grail in America," which was so successful that it lead to a television gig as host of the History Channel series "America Unearthed," from 2012 to 2015.
In 2015, he joined the Freemasons, and continued his studies as part of that organization. What he ultimately found, he says, is definitive evidence that the Templars came to America with Norse explorers in the mid-14th century, seeking a sanctuary where they could live free from tyranny and religious persecution.
"I have an answer for everything," he says, "because logic and evidence has proved that it's real. The rock has spoken — and I trust the rocks."
If you go
What: Sons of Norway Vikingland Lodge 1-495 presents Scott Wolter
When: Friday, Oct. 1, 2 p.m.
Where: Historic Holmes Theatre, 806 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes
How: Tickets are $10 for adults, free for students, with a discount of 10% for groups of 10-19 people and 15% for groups of 20 or more. To reserve your seat, call the Holmes Theatre Box Office at 218-844-7469 or visit the website at dlccc.org/holmes-theatre.html.