News Stories

Ancient Artifacts?Real & Fake

A giant, prehistoric circle has been discovered in Ohio that is nearly perfect and about 90 feet across. It was buried long ago and is completely underground.

Using powerful magnetic sensors, archaeologists discovered the circle by chance. N?omi Greber, a Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologist, says they used remote-sensor tools which were originally developed for petroleum exploration. ?Now we can see things that we didn?t even know were there.?

The circle is in a region of southern Ohio that long where many ancient artifacts have been discovered. The area is dotted with Indian mounds in geometric shapes. All of the mounds are above ground and shown on maps. But the circle was hidden beneath a 300-acre tract bought by the Interior Department in 1997 to protect mounds that farmers were destroying with their plows.

Some speculate that the circle was constructed by the Hopewell, a lost civilization that built dozens of mysterious geometric objects across Ohio before vanishing about 1,500 years ago. Although unsure of its purpose, government scientists say they are certain that the circle is manmade. It was dug out like a ditch, then covered up to keep it invisible.

The Hopewell civilization extended from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico. They started building mounds and earthworks about 438 BC, when the Greeks erected the Parthenon in Athens. And they vanished around 400 AD, not long after the Mayans started building temples in Mexico.

?We know more about the Egyptians and the Assyrians than the people who were in our own back yard,? Greber says. ?They left no writing that we know of. They just left octagons, rectangles and circles.?

What is most puzzling about the Hopewell is that their sites were not cities. They left no evidence that people actually lived where the earthworks were built. ?These places were so clean inside. They went out of their way to keep them tidy,? says Brad Lepper, an Ohio Historical Society researcher. ?We think they were ceremonial or religious.?

When the huge circle popped up on their computer screens, the researchers were stunned. One researcher says it reminds her of photos that NASA has beamed back from the surface of Mars. Park service archaeologist Jarrod Burks says he ?got tingly? when he first saw it.

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In South Dakota, Judi Rudebusch has discovered 52 huge rocks with triangle-shaped holes that she thinks may have been made by ancient Viking explorers. ?Those holes are there for a reason. What does it tie into?? she asks.

Rudebusch contacted Marion Dahm of Chokio, Minnesota, who has spent the last few decades looking for unusual markings and holes in stones across the upper Midwest, who was excited by what she found. Then people began telling Rudebusch about similar rocks on their properties. ?I just want to keep finding more,? she says.

The elevation of each rock is estimated to be between 1,150 feet to just over 1,200 feet. The rocks are usually deep in the ground and on the side of a hill - away from flat, farmable land. The holes themselves are not exact sizes, ranging from around 3/4 inch in diameter to 1 3/8 inches.

Rudebusch believes that the rocks were used as mooring stones. Rumors about such stones have been around the upper Midwest for decades. Legend has it that during the first half of the last millennium, ancient Vikings made their way into what is now the Great Plains and set up settlements. They cut holes in rocks near waterways to tether their ships to.

Another recent discovery is a rock found near Kensington, Minnesota, that looks as if it has inscriptions written in ancient Scandinavian lettering. That area is already famous for the Kensington Runestone. The stone, discovered around 1898, has etchings on it that some people think tell a story of the deaths of Viking explorers in west-central Minnesota in the 1300s.

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But it?s now been revealed that the newest Runestone was created by University of Minnesota graduate students in 1985 - not a band of Norsemen exploring Minnesota in 1363. This discovery adds another chapter to a 103-year-old state controversy about Vikings, sailing ships and bloody battles.

Two of the students, Kari Ellen Gade, of the Department of Germanic Studies at Indiana University, and Jana K. Schulman, associate professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University, have come forward to say that they and three other friends carved the rock ?for fun? and to cast doubt on the validity of the nearby Kensington Runestone. The carvers prefer to think of it not as a hoax but as a scientific study, trying to determine whether people would think the inscription genuine.

The rock they say they carved, called the AVM stone, was found in May by a Minneapolis artist on an island near Kensington. A team of scientists and townspeople dragged the 2,200-pound rock to a secret location. They hired archaeologists to study the site and a St. Paul geologist tested the rock to determine its age and origin.

The five graduate students - three women and two men ? were taking a seminar on runic inscriptions 16 years ago when they were inspired to make an excursion to Alexandria, Minnesota, to see the Kensington Runestone on display in a museum. They concluded that the Kensington Runestone was a fake. ?All serious scholarship has drawn that conclusion,? Gade says.

They decided to carve a rock to see what would happen if it were discovered. They took with them a hammer, a chisel and a copy of the alphabet used on the Kensington Runestone. On a rock in a quiet, wooded spot, they carved Latin letters reading ?AVM? (which are also on the Kensington Runestone and said to mean ?Ave Maria?), a date (1363, one year later than that on the Kensington Runestone) and some runic letters. The students tracked each other down after a news story came out about discovery of the AVM rock. Three of the five refused to be identified, but Gade and Schulman sent a letter to the Minnesota Historical Society in October admitting the hoax.

?One of the reasons we came forward was we saw that people were being asked to make financial contributions to have the rock tested,? Gade says. ?We didn?t feel it would be right to carry this further.?

Geologist Scott Wolter has examined both runestones in his laboratory at American Petrographic Services in St. Paul and believes the Kensington Runestone is valid. He was part of the team that announced the discovery of the AVM stone. He says he accepts that the AVM was carved by the graduate students, not Vikings, but he?s disappointed. ?When I was in college I did some stupid things, too,? he says. ?But I give them credit for coming forward and admitting it.?

The Kensington Runestone looks far older, he says. It was discovered before 1898, when a Sweden-born farmer said he found it wrapped in the roots of a tree. Some investigators think the farmer was hoaxing local scholars.

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