Local film, expert put new focus on ancient mystery

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2009 - 6:46 PM

A Chaska filmmaker's new documentary on the Kensington Runestone, left, based on research by a Chanhassen forensic expert, is appearing on the History Channel this week.

Shown is the Kensington Runestone. Olof Ohman said he found the buried stone on his Minnesota farm. Others say he carved it about 1898 as a joke.

Photo: Minnesota Tourist Bureau

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Shortly after the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, among the first civilians called to the site to help the military was geologist Scott Wolter of Chanhassen.

As a forensic concrete expert, Wolter was asked to examine the heat damage to columns and beams caused by the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 and the subsequent fire at the Pentagon.

"It was amazing," said Wolter, who said he's done more than 5,000 investigations on concrete. "They knew what had happened. They knew a plane hit it. But was there a bomb on it? Was it just the jet fuel? Was it something else?"

Wolter, who once helped Las Vegas police identify a murder victim simply by the impression her body left on the cement she was encased in, points out his connection to the Pentagon and the 9/11 investigation in order to establish his credentials as a scientist and investigator.

Especially when he starts talking about his theories and belief in the authenticity of the Kensington Runestone, one of the most controversial pre-Colombian artifacts in the world.

Not only does Wolter believe the stone is real and that it predates Christopher Columbus by more than 130 years, he also has come to the startling conclusion that the stone was carved by the Order of the Knights Templar, a medieval European military group, as a land claim for much of eastern North America.

Wolter also says that the Kensington Runestone is proof that the Templars might have, metaphorically speaking, brought to Minnesota and North America the Holy Grail, the term for the chalice used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper and one of the holiest relics in Christianity. But Wolter said he does not think of the Grail as a physical object, but as the knowledge and wisdom that the Templars and their descendents, the Freemasons, brought to North America and used it to establish the Republic of the United States.

"I know it's hard to believe," said Wolter, whose theories are the basis for a just-released documentary on the History Channel. "But I am a scientist. The data is the data, and that's how we approached the [Kensington] Runestone."

The documentary

Called "Holy Grail in America," the documentary, through re-enactments and interviews, takes a look at the history of the Kensington Runestone and the controversies surrounding it.

Produced by the husband-and-wife team of Andy and Maria Awes of Chaska, the documentary by Committee Films debuted last weekend on the History Channel and will be telecast again this weekend.

The couple spent more than a year producing the film, shooting locally in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and also traveling to Nova Scotia, England, Sweden and Norway to film and conduct interviews.

"We tried to re-create a lot of the research that he did in coming up with this Templar connection," said Maria Awes, who years ago did a piece on Wolter and the Runestone when she worked as an investigative producer for WCCO-TV.

"She felt there was way, way more to this story than could be told in a three-minute news piece," said Andy Awes, who founded Committee Films three years ago. "When he explained the whole story to me, it just blew me away and I said, 'We need to do a documentary.' "

The film tells the story of how the Runestone was discovered by Olof Ohman, a farmer, in a field near Kensington in 1898. It quickly veers into the work done by Wolter at American Petrographic Services in St. Paul, where he began studying the stone after he was hired to do so in July 2000.

"When I was hired I didn't know what the Runestone was," said Wolter, who now has no doubt as to the carving's authenticity. "The inscription cannot be a modern hoax."

He bases his claims on the physical evidence he documented, including the weathering of the stone and the decay rates of mica minerals inside the inscription, which he said indicate the carvings are at least 200 years old.

Wolter takes his claims even further in his recently released book, "The Hooked X: Key to the Secret History of North America." The book details the work Wolter did with the Runestone, and its connections to the mysterious Templars, who are said to have disappeared with a vast treasure in the early 1300s after being targeted as enemies and persecuted by the Catholic Church.

Some people believe that among the treasures the Templar fleet sailed away with was the Holy Grail.

The documentary also gives a lot of time to contrary views of the stone -- and there are plenty. No less an authority than the Smithsonian Institution declared the Runestone a hoax in recent years -- though in 1948, the Smithsonian had declared it legitimate.

"It's a really interesting artifact and a lot of people have written it off as a hoax," Maria Awes said. "But if it's not a hoax, it means somebody was here in 1362 ... and there needs to be a lot more modern-day study of it."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280

  • 'HOLY GRAIL IN AMERICA'

    The two-hour documentary on the Kensington Runestone, which debuted last weekend on the History Channel, will be shown again Saturday at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

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