In 2006 an organization was founded to help put runic studies on a more scientific basis, the American Association for Runic Studies (AARS). Its mission is two-fold: to promote academic and scholarly research regarding runes and runic-like letters in Europe and North America and to counter the unscientific claims being thrust upon school children, college students and the public by those who exploit runic writing for commercial gain.
Unfortunately, the popular cultural interpretations of runes and other related artifacts uncovered in America have leaped across the threshold of scholarly inquiry and wandered into the realm of speculation that is often stunning for its biases and inaccuracies. There are some simple cases in point that illustrate the ignorance or prejudices that have misdirected the conversation from critical discussion into fantasy.
First, there is the illustration of the Kensington runestone (KRS) as represented by U-Haul, a nationwide company that rents moving vans and trailers to the general public. In 2011 U-Haul unveiled a fleet of 2,300 moving vans that highlighted Minnesota by splashing a substantial graphic presentation related to the Kensington Rune Stone. The iconic image to represent the KRS, which claims a date of authorship in 1362, was a 9th Century Viking ship. Efforts by the AARS to provide correct factual information was rebuffed by the corporation, claiming it simply was presenting facts and it was up to the reader to sort through what was true.
Second, the bias against “academics” was replete throughout a television series, “America Unearthed,” aired by the Cable Channel H2 in 2013 and 2014. The host, Scott Wolter, has made a career on castigating scholars for “hiding” the real truth of North America’s first contact with Europeans. He also claims to have proven by petrographic methods that the KRS is an authentic medieval artifact. Mr. Wolter has started appearing in middle school classrooms where he thinks “the kids could appreciate hearing about the personal toll of what happens when academics can’t agree” and where he promotes his unscientific and alternative approach to research.
The only way to counteract this disinformation is by educating the public. In 2010, AARS coordinated parts of a North American Runic Lecture Tour, followed up in 2013. In 2012 AARS received a grant to assist in the development of a new initiative, the Educator Runic Studies Project. This is a multi -year initiative to teach about runes and runic writing in the American classroom through the development of a cadre of teachers/educators between North America and Scandinavia.