"The sun was just at the right angle, almost setting down below the trees to the west. I happened to be at the right place at the right time, the right time of year, so the sun was at the right latitude and the shadow cast from the sun, revealed to me the letters AVM on this stone. I was just dumbfounded, I couldn't believe it; I found a stone," said Westin, who claims the stone was carved by Viking, or Norse, explorers in 1363. She unveiled the stone in Kensington on Monday. A group of about 100 townspeople watched as she traced her finger across the carvings, and read the inscription.
Westin says the AVM stands for Ave Maria, which, coincidentally, was also etched on another stone, the Kensington Runestone, found in the same area, in 1898. The Kensington Runestone has a long, controversial history in Central Minnesota. Farmer Olof Ohman claimed he found the stone as he plowed one of his fields. Even back then, people doubted it's authenticity, and many claimed Ohman carved the stone himself as a hoax.
Westin and the other researchers working with her say the new runestone proves the original stone is real, and that Vikings spent time in Minnesota 600 years ago.
Curious onlookers in Kensington crowded around the one-ton granite boulder, touching the carved surface. Some believed it was real, and some, like Rebecca Bame, said they were ready to believe, but not just yet. "I'll wait and find out," she said. "They have all kinds of incredible things to test things with. They have followed all the rules for keeping the site clean, that was one of the things that didn't happen with the original; there were people stomping all over it all the time, basically destroying the Ohmann's life, so it'll be interesting to see how this one is handled."
Bame believes in the original Kensington Runestone; so does Bob Berg. But this amateur Viking researcher does not believe in the AVM stone. In fact, he says he saw the exact same stone in 1994, and told his friends, it was a fake.
"I announced to everybody about that fake out there, I didn't want that thing sitting there, aging, somebody else coming along, and thinking they found something valid. So I've considered it a fake for seven years," said Berg.
Some professional archaeologists in Minnesota also doubt the new find is real, and they have their doubts about the other Runestone as well. State Archaeologist Mark Dudzik says in his opinion, the original runestone is a hoax, and this latest find probably follows in its steps. "I don't really think this sheds any more light on whether or not the runestone is real or not; it just is another chapter in an interesting saga," according to Dudzik.
Dudzik says it's unlikely Vikings ever visited Minnesota. He says he's a skeptic, and thinks evidence shows the two runestones are fakes. Believers says the jury is out and the evidence is in their favor.
The debate will continue as the new runestone is put under scrutiny by geologists and archaeologists. Eventually it will take its place by the other runestone in Alexandria's Kensington Runestone Museum.