The Yarmouth "Runic Stone" is more properly known as the "Fletcher Stone". It weighs about 400 pounds and has 13 characters cut into the flat face. (See photo.)
Due to its promotion as a tourist attraction, this local curio is thought by some to be "proof" that Leif Ericson visited Yarmouth in 1007 AD.
Since 1812, when a Yarmouth resident brought the inscription into public view, various theories have been advanced in order to try to reveal its origin. In spite of many logical scholarly arguments against Norse origins, many people have clung doggedly to a "Norse-of-course" belief.
Evidence of a Norse origin was fostered by one amateur runiologist and nourished by another. In 1884, Henry Phillips of Philadelphia gave the inscription the meaning: "Harko's son addressed the men". On the other hand, Olaf Strandwold of the State of Washington devised the currently popular: "Leif to Eric raises (this monument)".
The object of this brief paper is to bring together some of the significant statements which have been made about the inscription, and then to present some as yet unpublished evidence, thereby bringing the discussion to a credible conclusion.
Sound arguments against Norse origins can be based on two foundations:
Remarks by reputable scholars;
Comparison of the "letters" with ancient European and near-Eastern alphabets, including Nordic, Anglian and Teutonic runes.
Those who have denied Norse origins include:
Sir Daniel Wilson, one-time president of the University of Toronto and a noted 19th century archaeologist and historian;
L.F. Laffler, formerly a professor of the Swedish language;
Professor Magnus Olsen of Norway, author of works on runes;
Dr. Liestol of the Norsk Polar Institute in Oslo, Norway's greatest expert on Runic inscriptions. (He refuted the stone's Norse origins in 1966.)
Olsen (in about 1910), and Liestol, as quoted in the Yarmouth Vanguard on December 7th, 1966, both stated that the marks were not Runes, and suggested that they were the result of natural agencies. Wilson, who received a copy and description from Dr. G.J. Farish of Yarmouth as early as 1857, wrote: "... the Yarmouth inscription ... neither accords with the style ... nor is it graven in a variation of the familiar characters of the Scandinavian futlork".
As seen today, the inscription appears to have been cut with a hammer and chisel. Separate chisel marks are obvious. The original inscription was done more delicately, for Farish says: "The tracing has been done with a sharp pointed instrument carried forward, by successive blows of a hammer or mallet, the effect of which is plainly visible. The point of the instrument barely penetrated the layers of quartz".
Careful study (briefly described below) leads to the conclusion, expressed by Yarmouth's K.G.T. Webster as an unwilling conclusion, "that we must of necessity decide that it was made by the later English, either for amusement or for fraudulent purposes". And, in fact, a direct descendent of the retired Army surgeon, Dr. Richard Fletcher (who "found" the stone in 1812), has said: "It was always said in the family that he did it as a joke."
Since its "discovery" in 1812, the stone has rested in many places, from its first home on Fletcher's lawn to a place of prominence in the Yarmouth County Museum, where the Historical Society wisely makes no claim for it.
For further study, the following are available in the library of the Yarmouth Museum,
2nd Collins Street, Yarmouth:
Sir Daniel Wilson: " On the Vinland of the Norsemen", proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada, 1890.
Laffler: Yarmouth Herald, April 23, 1901
Magnus Olsen and others: Nova Scotia Historical Society Collections, Vol. XVII, 1915