'It was like a calling': Peter Stormare on 'Secrets of the Viking Stone'
Secrets of the Viking Stone follows Swedish actor, Peter Stormare (Fargo, John Wick 2, Prison Break) and history enthusiast Elroy Balgaard as they set out to solve the mystery surrounding the Kensington Runestone: an artefact that could rewrite the history of North America.
The runestone is a 92kg slab of carved stone that was discovered near Kensington, a small town in central Minnesota in 1898 by a Swedish immigrant, Olof Öhman. The inscription on the stone was purportedly inscribed by Scandinavian explorers from the 14th century and records their journey to North America. If real, the runestone would place Scandinavians in North America 100 years before Columbus made landfall in Hispanola.
Sky HISTORY spoke to Peter Stormare over Zoom to discuss the origins of the fabled runestone and why he's convinced that it is genuine.
Sky HISTORY: What is the premise of the show?
Peter Stormare: I try to clear a guy called Olof Öhman from the accusations that he carved a runestone in the US in the late 19th century and prove that Scandinavians were able to sail into the middle of America, in the 13th or 14th century.
Why do you feel so strongly about clearing Olof Öhman’s name?
He was from the next village over from me [in Sweden]. I found out we immigrated 100 years apart and I was drawn in. It was like a calling.
He was accused of making the runestone himself but he never made a cent from it. It brought his family darkness, they became a laughing stock.
Why do think that Öhman didn't make the runestone himself?
He had a homestead and he had to fight really hard to build a little shack. Before that, he lived in a cave with his wife and two kids for a long time before he could build it. And it seems like those academics who say he made the runestone himself, don't understand what immigrants had to go through and the hardships they faced.
They didn't have time to carve a runestone for half a year because they needed bread. They needed to plough the land otherwise they would lose everything.
I would have been very sceptical if after finding it, he put it on display and charged money to see it but he didn't. He gave it away. He said, 'I wish I never found the darn stone'.
Can you describe what a runestone is and what its purpose was?
A runestone is a piece of a great slab, they can be three or four metres tall and a couple of metres wide. The Vikings erected them as memorabilia for their achievements at the time, like a diary saying something like 'Sven was here together with Torbjorn and we carved this runestone on our journey'.
Sometimes they erected them for someone who died like a king. They are very beautiful and sometimes were painted in different colours. Sometimes it's hard to decipher what they say because the language is very different [from modern Swedish] and more like how they speak in Iceland today.
Why is the Kensington Runestone so controversial?
Because it would prove that Vikings or the descendants of the Vikings sailed across the Great Lakes, all the way into the heartland of the US.
Why do you believe it's possible, Vikings could have sailed all the way to Minnesota?
Well, I say it's an easy ride compared to all the other places the Vikings went. From the year 600AD to the years 1100-1200AD when they became Christians, the Vikings sailed down through Russia, all the way to the Middle East and even further. That is accepted as a fact because we have all the items back in Scandinavia, coins from Asia, coins from Northern Africa and fabric from India.
It would have taken them four or five days to go to Iceland, four days to go to Greenland and four or five days to go down to Newfoundland. That's easy compared to sailing to the Middle East where you have to sail through lots of little rivers and across the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and into the Caspian Sea.
There's a Viking settlement in Newfoundland and people were living there for 350 years. But it was mainly a station where they repaired ships. It had blacksmiths who are working there, docks and everything for ships to come in and be repaired.
Why do they have a repair shop on the tip of Newfoundland? Because they want to go further inland, to the Hudson Bay or down to Maine or to the coast.
In my heart, I know they sailed into the big lakes of the US and came to the heartland of the US. Why stop at Newfoundland? There's nothing up there really just a repair shop.
Looking at the stone itself, what physical proof is there that it is authentic?
There have been geological experiments being done on this stone many times now and physicists have looked at it, and the weathering of the engravings are said to be at least 300 years old.
Academia says the language is not a 14th century language from Scandinavia, and I say, 'Oh you know exactly how they spoke?' because no one apart from the clergy wrote anything down. Also, there are three runes on the stone that weren't known about till 1934.
So, I asked those people from academia and the world and linguistics, 'How come this guy who never went to school, from northern Sweden, knew three runes that no one in academia in Scandinavia knew about until the mid-1930s?'
Do these runes, prove the Kensington Runestone is authentic and did Vikings make it all the way to Minnesota? Join Peter Stormare and Elroy Balgaard in Secrets of the Vikings Stone, Mondays at 9pm to discover the truth.