HISTORY OF THE RUNESTONE

The Heavener Runestone is one of the most visited tourist attractions in southeastern Oklahoma.  It is also, perhaps, one of the most controversial. The controversy centers on when the runes were carved into the piece of Savanna sandstone as well as on their translation.  The best discussion of what runes are is that of Shirk

 

Runes are characters used by Teutonic tribes of northwestern Europe. There are three classes: Anglo-Saxon, German, and Scandinavian. There are not great differences in the form of the characters as used by the three, just as today many languages use the identical alphabet form. In Anglo-Saxon, the word run means secret and the word runa means magician. The use of runes was limited to a small class or profession of priests and magicians. With the introduction of Christianity in northwestern Europe, the use of runes was condemned; and the Church insisted upon the use of the Latin alphabet. Their earliest use was in the 4th century and the latest use was in the 13th in Scandinavia. Their use in England was limited to the period from the 6th to the middle 10th centuries.

Shirk
Gloria Farley Ok. Runestone

According to local oral history, the inscriptions were first discovered in the 1830’s by a Choctaw hunting party (Farley, 1973).  Poteau Mountain, on which it is located, was named by French trappers. It was part of the Indian Territory ceded to the Choctaw Nation when they were removed from Mississippi to present day Oklahoma.  The Choctaws were probably astonished if they saw the eight mysterious symbols punched into the mossy face of the huge slab of stone which stood in a lovely ravine, protected by overhanging cliffs. Records tell us there was no underbrush on the mountains then; a deer could be seen for a long distance under the virgin timber.  White men began to filter into the area in the 1870’s. Wilson King, with two other bear hunters, saw the carved stone before 1874, according to a statement signed by his son. However, the earliest eyewitness on record is Luther Capps, who saw it in 1898. Logging was an industry when Heavener was established in 1894. Laura Callahan  remembered that in 1904, at the age of five, she was held up to run her hands over the mossy lettering by her father, R.L. Bailey, who owned a sawmill. In 1913, when Carl F. Kemmerer again found the stone and described it in Heavener, others already knew of the monument-like stele which was called “Indian Rock”.

    In 1923, Carl F. Kemmerer sent a copy of the inscriptions to the Smithsonian Institution, which responded that the characters are runic, but that “whoever made the inscription had a Scandinavian grammar as a guide” (Farley, 1990). In subsequent years, the stone was apparently “lost” until Gloria Farley, a longtime resident of Heavener, who had visited the stone with Kemmerer in 1928, rediscovered it once again in 1951.  It is through her persistent efforts that foreign experts in runic inscriptions have studied what is now known as the Heavener Runestone and that a state park was established in October 1970. On July 1, 2011, the state park ceased to exist due to budgetary constraints. The park was turned over to the City of Heavener to operate and maintain. A local group of concerned citizens formed a non-profit organization called Friends of Heavener Runestone to raise funds and assist the City in the operation of the park.

    Several ideas have been proposed to explain the origin of the inscriptions.  Two support the claim that the runes document Viking exploration of southeastern Oklahoma in about 1000A.D.  One suggests that the runes were carved in the early 1700’s, and another, that the runes are of even more recent 1800’s or 1900’s origin.

    Shirk (1959) was the first to suggest that the Heavener runes are quite ancient; his description is based largely on the interpretations of Mr. Fredrick J. Pohl, “a recognized scholar and student of Norse and Viking matters” (p.364).  The eight characters are from an established alphabet of runes: the second and last are “Medieval runes” that were developed and used in Scandinavia after about 900A.D.; the other characters are “Ancient runes” that are part of an alphabet that was fully developed by about 50

A.D. (Landsverk, 1970). Pohl attached little significance to the different alphabets.  The closest translation of the characters into Latin alphabet would be: GNOMEDAL. GNOME has been translated as “sun dial”, “monument” or “boundary marker”.  DAL translates as “valley”. GNOMEDAL could therefore mean “monument valley” (not to be confused with the more famous Monument Valley in

Arizona) or “valley of the boundary marker”.  (Shirk 1959, p.366).

    Shirk (1959, p. 367) concluded that the Heavener characters are runic and the “the carving must have been done prior to Columbus; and undoubtedly prior to 1000A.D.”. However, he left open the possibility, albeit slight, that the inscriptions were carved during the French period of settlement in the Arkansas River Valley.

    In 1986, Dr. Richard Nielson, who obtained his doctorate at the University of Denmark but resides in California, began work on all the American Runestones, including the famous Kensington Runestone in Minnesota which is dated 1362.  He added positively to its authenticity, and then turned his attention to the Oklahoma Runestones. Starting anew in the Scandinavian countries, he not only studied the actual Runestones there, (some of which are seldom seen), but he had access to the earliest literature on the subject.  He also interviewed runoligists at the University of Oslo.

    Dr. Nielsen is of the opinion that the Heavener, Poteau, and Shawnee inscriptions are written, not in a mixed alphabet, but that all of the runes are from the oldest Futhark.  The former disagreements on whether the second Heavener rune was an A or an N, he found is actually and L. The eighth rune which is considered as an L or a T is also a form of L.  The seventh rune is the Poteau inscription, which does not appear in this exact form in either runic alphabet, is actually a double L, or a bird rune in the form of two accepted L’s.  The last triangular rune at Poteau is a W, but rare.

    With this understanding of the disputed runes, Dr. Nielsen was able to offer translations for both the Heavener and Poteau Runestones.  Both bear a version of the same name, one being a nickname of the other. The Heavener stone says GLOME DAL, which means “Valley owned by GLOME”, a boundary marker or land claim.  The Poteau Runestone, which was part of a ledge and was broken off, says GOLI ALLW (Alu) “Magic or protection to Gloi”. This word of “magic” was used in the language of about 600A.D.  This is the key to the new dating.

    There was never a disagreement that the runes on the Shawnee Runestone, which spell the name MEDOK, are all from the oldest Futhark.  It was probably a gravestone, but the site was bulldozed. It may be significant that two other stones carved with runes were found near Heavener.  One, with the runic R and a bird rune (a combination of runes) was found on Morris Creek. The other, with three runes in a triangular pattern, was found on Poteau Mountain southeast of Heavener Runestone.  There are rumors of still more runestones in the general area, although many were destroyed in the 1940’s by treasure hunters.

    It appears that a Norseman named Glome, nicknamed Goli, owned property on Poteau Mountain as early as 600A.D.  His memorial was carved into a ledge on a foothill of Cavanal Mountain at Poteau, about ten miles away. Persons interested in detailed discussion of the grammar, spelling and many examples of the ancient usage of the runes may find them in the reference below:

    Nielsen, Richard, THE RUNESTONES OF OKLAHOMA, Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications, Volume 18, 1987, 6625 Bamburgh Drive, San Diego, CA  92217

 

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CONTACT INFO

  • 918-653-2241
  • 18365 Runestone Rd., Heavener, OK 74937
  • heavenerrunstonepark@gmail.com

© 2018 Heavener Runestone Park • ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

CONTACT INFO

  • 918-653-2241
  • 18365 Runestone Rd., Heavener, OK 74937
  • heavenerrunstonepark@gmail.com

© 2018 Heavener Runestone Park • ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

CONTACT INFO

  • 918-653-2241
  • 18365 Runestone Rd., Heavener, OK 74937
  • heavenerrunstonepark@gmail.com

© 2018 Heavener Runestone Park • ALL RIGHTS RESERVED