A controversial Minnesota artifact is making a name for itself across the country in its next biggest publicity move.

The Kensington Runestone, which was unearthed in Minnesota but has been long disputed as a hoax, will now be featured on 2,300 20-foot moving trucks across the country.

U-Haul unveiled the image Saturday morning at the Alexandria museum that houses the stone during the city's "Awake the Lakes" celebration. About 1,000 people celebrated the announcement at the Runestone Museum with T-shirts and a truck depicting the stone behind a large Vikings ship -- the fourth image representing Minnesota on the company's trucks.

"It's just the wonderful marketing of 2,300 billboards across the country," museum volunteer Carol Meyer said. "As a nonprofit, we can't buy that kind of advertising."

The stone received national publicity in 2009 when a History Channel documentary aired. That helped pique interest in the stone, Meyer said, drawing 10,000 visitors to the museum last year.

The stone was discovered in 1898 in a farm field in Kensington, Minn., near Alexandria. It describes the massacre of 10 members of a Swedish and Norwegian exploration party in central Minnesota in the year 1362. Experts have long disputed the authenticity of the stone, which would suggest that Nordic explorers were in America in 1362, before Columbus.

The moving truck company isn't taking a stance on whether the stone is a hoax or not, but rather saying in a statement that "honoring Minnesota will challenge everyone to learn more about Viking adventures, and decide for themselves whether or not the proof is etched in stone."

The image is part of U-Haul's "Venture Across America" campaign, which highlights facts about North America through nearly 200 images on its trucks. Of the four images representing Minnesota, the Kensington Runestone is the only image part of this campaign. (The other images are more general.)

Company spokeswoman Joanne Fried said the stone was selected by a group of researchers to represent the state for its intriguing story.

Meyer said U-Haul contacted the museum last fall with interest in displaying the stone on its trucks. Now she said she's hopeful the moving truck publicity will help draw more visitors to the museum this year.

"Running a museum, we're in the entertainment business," she said. "We want people to come see it."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141