Many Scandinavian-Americans hold it as an article of faith, or at least reason enough to ignore Columbus Day: A rock plucked from roots of a tree in Minnesota in 1898 proves the Vikings were here first.
Ever since a Swedish immigrant farmer claimed to have unearthed the 202-pound Kensington Rune Stone, carved with runic characters and inscribed with the date 1362, true believers have insisted that the stone is real and chronicles early Norse exploration of the New World.
Comes now Scott Wolter, a Minnesota geologist and longtime champion of the stone's authenticity, with what he says is new evidence that the stone is real.
What's more, Wolter says his research shows that the visiting Vikings were also Knights Templar and the stone they left more than a narrative of exploration. It was, he said, a "claim of acquisition," covering the Mississippi, Missouri and - you bet - Red River water-sheds.
Wolter is now on the lecture circuit in support of his new book on the rune stone.
Through the decades since Olof Ohman claimed to have discovered the stone on his Douglas County land, historians and archaeologists have disputed its authenticity. It was a fairly elaborate prank, they said, and a son of Ohman's neighbor fueled the skepticism when he said his father "confessed" to him that he had helped Ohman make the runic forgery.
The dispute has raged since, though not so much in Kensington, a town of fewer than 300 people about 20 miles from Alexandria, where it's a matter of economic development. A few years back, a reporter for the St. Paul newspaper took note of Runestone Auto Care, the Runestone Apartments and other namesake businesses, and residents seemed "as rune-struck as ever."
"But it's not about belief," Wolter said in a telephone interview. "It's about evidence. There is no evidence consistent with it being a hoax, and I don't think anybody who hears my lecture walks away thinking it's a hoax."
Wolter was hired to test the stone about a decade ago by the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, where it's been on display. He is convinced that his studies since of weathering and comparisons to ancient texts prove the stone is ancient.
As to the "confession" that neighbor John Grand supposedly made to his son, he asks, "Did (the investigators) ask the follow-up questions?" And whenever anybody did ask the elder Grand for conspiracy details, "he said, 'Go ask Ohman,' and Ohman would say, 'That's a bunch of humbug.'
"What I think was going on is John Grand was jealous of the attention that Ohman was getting."
Wolter co-authored "The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence" in 2005, and his latest research is recounted in the just-published book, "The Hooked X: Key to the Secret History of North America."
His research was featured in a film documentary, "Holy Grail in America," which premiered in September on the History Channel.
Among his findings: four more stones at various locations in this country "directly related to the Kensington Rune Stone," and a two-story round tower in Rhode Island with an intriguing feature: "It points to Kensington."
Wolter also believes that misinterpretation of one runic inscription led to the assumption that the visitors were well, just visiting. He suggests instead that the rune-covered marker "was a land claim. They were not just on a journey of discovery, but a journey of acquisition."
Another misreading of the runic text suggested that the Norsemen had been attacked and were "red with blood and dead." Instead, Wolter believes, they wrote they were "red with blood and death," which could have been their way of saying they suffered from the plague.
As to Columbus arriving in 1492, Wolter believes that the Italian explorer also was a Knight Templar and "knew all about the new world," despite the generally accepted historical judgment that he stumbled into the new land looking for the East Indies.
"He had a map," Wolter said.
His earlier conclusions have been challenged by skeptics, including Scott Anfinson, the Minnesota state archaeologist, and Russell Fridley, former head of the Minnesota Historical Society, who has called the pride of Kensington "a monument to Scandinavian frontier humor."
The critics are "stuck in old paradigms of history," Wolter said.
"What's in the history books, most of it is nonsense. It'll come out, eventually. We just have to push for it, and the light bulbs will come on."
Information from: Grand Forks Herald