Sunday, March 5, 2017

Guest Blogger Musings About the Hooked X

The following post was submitted by Patrick Shekleton and in the interest of full disclosure I had no input into the content of this paper.  I simply reviewed it for appropriateness to be submitted on my blog.  Pat has obviously put in a lot of work into this infinitely complicated subject matter.  Reading it brought back many memories of my days working with Richard Nielsen and Henrik Williams on the language, runes, dialect and grammar of the North American runes stones that contain the Hooked X®.  Take your time and try to absorb the information that while dense, is very good and important research. 



If one has an interest in the North American rune stones, then the Hooked X® character found on the Kensington Rune Stone (1898), Spirit Pond Rune Stones (1971), and the Narragansett Rune Stone (1984) represents an element of the broader discussion.

The Hooked X® form, along with its dotted (umlauted), macron (bar above), and double vowel (bar below) variant forms, have been identified as performing the basic linguistic function associated with the vowel, or vowel combinations, of -a, -æ, and -aa.

Table 1. A synopsis of transliterated words from the KRS and SPR inscriptions which contain the vowel form -a, -æ, and   -aa. This sample is illustrative of the variance one will find in the larger body of inscription transliterations with respect to the Hooked X® form (or variant).

Fig. 1  George T. Flom’s inventory of KRS rune forms as presented on page 26 in his 1910 address.

Fig. 2  Richard Nielsen and Scott Wolter’s inventory of KRS rune forms presented on page 64 of their 2006 published work.

Fig. 3  Barry J. Hanson’s inventory of KRS rune forms as presented on page B-3 in his 2002 published work.

Figs. 4 and 5. Richard Nielsen’s Spirit Pond Rune Stone usage cases for the a-rune as found on pp. 94-95 of his 1992 published work. [Cited text of Cleasby is available at]


The asserted symbolic meaning(s) of the Hooked X® form, whether found on runic carvings (KRS/SPR/NRS), within manuscripts (Cremona Document, Icelandic, etc.), or upon symbolic carvings (Westford Knight and Jesus Ossuary Lid), have proven to be as contentious as they are interesting.


Long before the present-day conversation on symbolic meanings of the Hooked X® commenced, the conversation revolved around the unique runic form of the a-rune and whether there were valid historical antecedents that might explain the lineage of the character form.

George Flom, a non-supporter of authenticity, remarked in his 1910 published work that the X with a hook form for -a and -æ were “from a different runic alphabet, and some suggest modern compromises with corresponding Latin letters.” Further on, he postulated that the X with a hook form on the KRS was analogous to the simple X form representing the vowel -a found on inscriptions in Dalarne region of Sweden around c. 1600. [5]

 In 2006, Nielsen and Wolter’s published work presented a case against the Darlecarlian Rune forms being the basis for the KRS inscription, despite the close parallel of its simple X form representing the -a vowel. [6]

Danish runologist Erik Moltke, a non-supporter of authenticity, wrote in 1949 (as cited by Swedish runologist Sven B. F. Jansson’s re-printed 1949 article contained within Barry J. Hanson’s 2002 book):

Around 1100 under influence from the Latin alphabet there came about a change in the runic alphabet, which from having had a content of 16 or 19 characters now acquired just as many as the Latin alphabet. Simultaneously a number of the runes were simplified. A [Younger Futhark], which in the alphabet of Viking times was crossed, i.e. consisted of a vertical primary stroke and a skew secondary stroke crossing the primary stroke, now became one-sided, i.e. the secondary stroke no longer crossed the primary stroke; the old Viking time form was retained but took the value æ …Look at the drawing of the Kensington Stone and see what an abortion it uses as an a-rune [Hooked X® symbol shown]. [7]     

 Moltke’s descriptive term of the a-rune form notwithstanding, he submits a fair treatment of how the Latin alphabet, and by implicit understanding, its characters and vowel combinations, were re-shaping the runic language in Scandinavia.


The Swedish lexicographer, Professor Hjalmar Lindroth, created some consternation in 1938 when his letter to Professor Richard Hennig was published. Again, we turn to Sven B. F. Jansson’s re-printed 1949 article contained within Barry J. Hanson’s 2002 book, this time citing Jansson directly:

Hjalmar Lindroth has of course in a frequently cited statement from 1938 asserted that the runologist “should not categorically insist on falsification, until he has been able to demonstrate the origin of the runic alphabet of the stones”. The statement shows that Lindroth in fact believed that the Kensington Stone’s “rune row” was a rune row in the true sense; that these symbols have been used in other inscriptions than the Kensington Stone and that they therefore in principle have the same character as e.g. that of the 16-character rune row. [author’s emphasis] [8]

 Jansson continued, creating the impression with this author that Lindroth espoused authenticity for the KRS:

This makes things worse. As regards his demand on the runologist that he is obliged to show where the mystical symbols have come from [which includes the a-rune form, one has the right to reply that any person with a normal imagination can make up an impressive number of symbols which runologists and others will in vain seek prototypes for - within existing rune rows. [9]

Jansson was replying to a dead man, a fellow native of Sweden - for Professor Hjalmar Lindroth had passed away two years prior. [10]

Ironically, this author’s initial impression from Jansson’s article that Lindroth espoused authenticity was mistaken – Lindroth, according to Hjalmar R. Holand, had a position of “strict neutrality” [11] regarding the authenticity of the KRS.

Professor William Thalbitzer, a Danish philologist whose educational background included Danish, English, and Latin studies at the University of Copenhagen prior to focusing on the Greenlandic language post-graduation [12], originally considered the KRS to be a fraud. Then Thalbitzer’s viewpoint shifted:

For a long time I, too, had considered the Kensington stone a fraud, and the late Prof. Finnur Jonsson and other Scandinavian runologists confirmed my view. However, from time to time certain fresh facts bearing on the matter have come to light, in archeology, runology, and philology, especially Prof. Axel Kock's later studies on medieval Swedish dialects. As new light is gradually being thrown on this amazing find from the West, I cannot but waver in my doubt and am forced to see the question from a new viewpoint. Not only Holand's books but my own investigations as well have set me thinking along new lines.2 I now maintain that this matter in its entirety is worthy of restudy ; it seems to me that, after all, the inscription may be authentic. [13]

One aspect of Thalbitzer’s investigation involved a paleographic comparison of the carved runic forms of the KRS (dated 1362) characters against the corresponding written character forms found in manuscripts in Sweden encompassing the 1164 to 1513 time-frame.

Fig. 6. Rune form table found in William Thalbitzer’s 1951 published work. The right-hand column inventory of majuscules and minuscules stemming from the 1164 to 1513 time period were collated and published in 1838. This 1838 work, Historie och Antikvitets-Akademien Handlingar, is not accessible online.

Fig. 7 Character specimens for the a-rune form.

Thalbitzer recognized that potential authenticity of inscribed character rune forms was not to be judged on the singular basis of the form having to be inscribed upon a medium such as stone, lead, or wood, but that a parallel form found within scribal manuscripts would suffice as being authentic proof for a unique rune form character. In simple terms, the absence of an inscribed runic character form in the Scandinavian runic inscription corpus did not disqualify a North American runic inscription with unique character forms from being authentic.

Nor did Thalbitzer state, or even suggest, that scribal character forms could only be considered valid if they were singularly found within the Scandinavian manuscript corpus [this author acknowledges that discovery of the scribal character forms within the aforementioned corpus eliminates questions revolving around cultural transmission].

Thalbitzer – and others - explicitly understood that the runic language was in flux by the 1300s, primarily due to the transmission of the more versatile Latin language via the introduction of Christianity. Other historical transmission paths include Viking/Norse travel to the Latin-speaking areas outside the Baltic and North Sea geographic area, the involvement of Scandinavian parties in the Crusades, and the increasing trade networks which involved, again, Latin-speaking agencies.


Thalbitzer, and other researchers, were limited in their day to what historical material they could access. In today’s Internet-era, access – in terms of volume, speed, and ease - has expanded the corpus of archival materials that may be screened by researchers for a-rune character forms, or an analogous Latin character form. It has also placed an increased premium for researchers, especially those who find themselves outside the realm of their typical everyday existence, to be discriminating.

Simply finding an X with a hook is not sufficiently discriminating to assert that the symbol is comparable to the a-rune character form found on the North American rune stones. The character form must be used in the context of an -a, -ae, or -aa vowel, or suitably shown as a possible orthographic predecessor, and its form must be sufficiently unambiguous.   

Distinction must be made between hooks and tails on Xs predicated by the paleographic script-style. By design, Xs in Gothic script have tail hooks, so these Xs are not valid hits. Scribal flourishing sometimes places tail hooks on Xs, but this presentation is easy to distinguish because the word will fail the vowel test. Lastly, character forms must be screened to ensure that the dreaded “ink splotch” hooks do not gain admission.

At this point, it’s now a race between mind-numbing brain fatigue and your eyeballs bleeding – but Xs with hooks do “pop” on occasion. A previous blog post in December 2015 encapsulating Steve DiMarzo’s manuscript screening laid out some examples which satisfied the then-nascent entry criteria.

I am not trying to be “crafty” by stating “suitably shown as a possible orthographic predecessor.” We are simply using Thalbitzer’s investigative thread, his hunch, that perhaps the unique a-rune character had a Latin lineage concurrent or prior to surviving Scandinavian scribal records.  

Fig. 8. A pseudo-X with a hook form on a c. 1122 English manuscript map. The map’s descriptive labels are written in Latin. The hook is offset from the leg end. No other Xs on the map follow this form. The contemporaneous Latin spelling of this symbol represents an -æ. As the language matured and became more simplified the -æ abbreviated to the singular sound represented by -e. The pseudo-X with a hook form is a breviograph – a symbol that represents a scribal abbreviation for the Latin -æ spelling and sound. The -æ Latin dipthong originally was the Greek -ai dipthong. [Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts; British Library;]

Fig. 9. A distinct X with a hook character form on a 1508 Italian cartographic product. The same map sheet contains normal Xs (absent the hook). The character form is, again, a breviograph. Cross-typing against a 1515 manuscript indicates that the breviograph was used either for the vowel -i, or the vowel combination -æ. No other Xs on this particular map folio follow this form.

Fig. 10. Two Xs with a hook character form on a 1508 Italian cartographic product. The same map sheet contains normal Xs (absent the hook). The character form is, again, a breviograph. Cross-typing against a 1515 manuscript indicates that the breviograph was used for the vowel/vowel combination -ia, -æ, or an -a. In medieval manuscripts dating back to 9th century, the Lunæ word had spelling derivatives of Luna and Lune.

Fig. 11. Two Xs with a hook character form on a 1508 Italian cartographic product. The same map sheet contains normal Xs (absent the hook). The character form is, again, a breviograph. A cross-typing against a 1515 manuscript indicates that the breviograph was used for the vowel/vowel combination -ia, -æ, or an -a. Sina is CHINA.

Fig. 12 Collated notes.

To more fully understand the significance of the X-like character forms on the c. 1122 and 1508 maps, I emailed a paleography expert. He graciously replied:

“I have had a look at the images you sent me. In my humble opinion, as you suggested, the X shape is simply the Latin ligature for the diphthong "ae" (fusion of bindings), in which the hook you mentioned is the medial "tongue" of the letter "e" which extends up to the top. And yes, the "ai" Greek ligature transitioned to the "ae" digraph in Latin.”


Was William Thalbitzer on the right path in suggesting that a possible source, or influence, for the unique a-rune character form might have migrated into the main of Scandinavia, rather than originating there?

Consider this:

-The written breviograph symbols on the c. 1122 English and 1508 Italian maps involve the vowel, or vowel combinations, of -a, -æ, -ea, -i, and -ia;

-The breviograph symbol form on the maps resemble the -a and -æ character forms found in Swedish manuscripts for more than four centuries (1164 to 1513); and

-The Hooked X® character forms of the KRS (1362) and SPR (1401/02) have been phonetically connected to the -a, -æ, and -aa vowel, or vowel combinations.
hat the Hooked X®, or its alternate, the X with a hook, is a unique character form is an understatement. I don’t specifically look for that character form, but if I am in an old manuscript – primarily researching geodesy and astronomy related topics – I keep an eye peeled for Arced-X (Spirit Pond Rune Stone) and Hooked X® symbols (KRS/SPR/NRS).

The initial find on the 1508 World Atlas was fortuitous, the additional four discoveries are attributed to the detailed screening done by Steve DiMarzo and David Ulrich.

Given the incredible paucity of the Hooked X® character form existent within surviving historical records, it begs the question as to how such a truly obscure symbol even found its way onto ANY of the North American rune stones?

Somehow it did, and considering that the only definitive Hooked X® character forms from the Medieval and early Middle Age eras have all been found beyond the borders of Sweden/Norway/Denmark, albeit the few that have been found to this point, it seems that some place other than Sweden was its point of origination. But where?

Flom, George T. The Kensington rune-stone: an address by George T. Flom, delivered before the Illinois State Historical Society at its annual meeting, May 5-6, 1910 at Springfield, Illinois. Springfield: Phillips Bros., 1910. Retrieved February 2016
Hanson, Barry J. Kensington Runestone: A Defense of Olof Ohman, the Accused Forger. Maple, WI: Available from Archaeology ITM, 2002.
Holand, Hjalmar Rued. Norse Discoveries and Explorations in America, 982-1362; Leif Erikson to the Kensington Stone. New York: Dover Publications, 1969.
Nielsen, Richard. “The Spirit Pond Runestones of Maine: A Proposed Dating and Tentative Translation.” The Epigraphic Society of Occasional Papers, 21 (1992): 92-113.
Nielsen, Richard, and Scott F. Wolter. The Kensington Rune Stone: Compelling New Evidence. Place of Publication Not Identified: Lake Superior Agate Pub., 2006.

Schöner, Johann. Luculentissima quaedā terrae totius descriptio: cū multis vtilissimis cosmographiæ iniciis. Nouaq, & q̄ ante fuit verior Europæ nostræ formatio. Præterea, fluuiorū ... & gentium q̄plurimorū vetustissima nomina recentioribus admixta vocabulis .. Noribergæ: Impressum ī excusoria officina Ioannis Stuchssen, 1515. Retrieved December 2016
Stevenson, Edward Luther. Atlas of Portolan Charts. Facsimile of manuscript in British Museum. (Egerton Manuscript no. 2803.) Edited by Edward Luther Stevenson. New York, 1911. Retrieved December 2016
Thalbitzer, William Carl. Two runic stones, from Greenland and Minnesota. City of Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1951. [No copyright restrictions] Retrieved July 2016 from
1. Flom, page 28, 1910.
2. Nielsen & Wolter, page 64, 2006.
3. Hanson, pages C1-C5, 2002.
4. Nielsen, pages 105-110, 1992.
5. Flom, page 21, 1910.
6. Nielsen and Wolter, page 91, 2006.
7. Hanson, page F-27, 2002.
8. Hanson, page F-26, 2002.
9. Ibid.
11. Holand, page 327, 1969 (original printing 1940).
13. Thalbitzer, page 4, 1951.