Minnesota's Kensington Runestone inspires TV show — and folks who've found skulls at home

During a hands-on demonstration for students from Alexandria Technical and Community College, the executive director for the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minn., says she has received calls from area residents with human bones

Alexandria Technical and Community College students Louis Gunnery, left, and Austin Beilke examine a 12,000-year-old mastodon pelvic bone at the Runestone Museum. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

ALEXANDRIA, Minn. — Two Minnesota residents might not have skeletons in their closet, but they do have the skulls. Or, at least, they used to.

Since Swedish actor Peter Stormare began investigating the Kensington Runestone and central Minnesota archaeology sites for a TV show, interest in artifacts has flared up, said Amanda Seim, executive director of the Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minn. The show, "Secrets of the Viking Stone," began in January on the Science Channel.

“I’ve already had people contact me saying, ‘Hey, can you get in contact with Peter Stormare, I have this skull in my closet,’” Seim told college biology students who visited the museum on Feb. 12 for a lesson on bones. “OK, first of all, you can’t have a skull in your closet.”

People and animals inhabited the now-Minnesota area for thousands of years before European settlers arrived, and their artifacts are typically discovered after heavy rains, during construction, and near lakes and streams, Seim said. That includes stone tools and arrowheads, especially near Brandon, Minn., as well as human and animal bones.

Several ancient finds have their home at the Runestone Museum, including mammoth and mastodon bones that date back about 12,000 years, to the end of the Ice Age.


Mastodon bones have been discovered in several places in Douglas County, including Kensington and Carlos. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

The biology students, from Alexandria Technical and Community College, donned gloves and passed around the ancient bones during their visits.

One of those bones included a foot-long molar from a mastodon that lived near present-day Carlos, Minn., about 12,000 years ago. A cement company discovered the tooth in the 1970s, Seim said.

The molar included part of the root as well as signs of wear on the ridges.

“It’s very similar to our molars, human molars,” Seim told the students, pointing out the jagged grooves and ridges. “Mastodon teeth look more like this because they had to chew through the bark. A mammoth tooth is a lot smoother.”

A mastodon molar housed at the Runestone Museum measures about a foot long. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)


Mastodons lived in wooded areas and were smaller than mammoths that grazed the plains. These bones are part of the museum's Ice Age exhibit not on display. The students got to handle a mastodon pelvic bone discovered in Kensington, Minn., and part of a 500-year-old hip bone from a modern-day bison, as well as a hip bone from a bison antiquus from 6,000-10,000 years ago. Seim pointed out how the older bones are heavier and larger than the younger bones.

Seim told Forum News Service that she has heard recently from at least two residents in possession of a human skull. She urged those residents to contact the appropriate authorities, she said. That includes the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, St. Cloud State University and the Minnesota state archaeologist.

Authorities need to get involved in case the bones are connected with criminal activity. If they're not part of a criminal case, and if they're old, the chances are that they belong to Native Americans and need to go back to the tribes.

“It is illegal to have human bones,” she said. “Human bones need to be either buried or repatriated to Native Americans.”

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994, and was driven by curiosity to work her way around the United States.
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