Surfside Dig Begins
Hampton Union, August 29, 1973
An archaeological dig began this week at Surfside Park, Hampton Beach, in hopes of finding further evidence that the large stone located there, marked with three crude crosses, supposedly runic markings, is the grave stone of Thorwald Ericson.
According to the Viking saga of "Eric the Red", Thorwald's father, Thorwald was killed by Indians in 1004 and was buried on the coast of the new world. Brother of Leif Ericson, Thorwald became interested in the Vinland or Wineland described by his brother.
Mrs. Virginia Frazer, president of the Historical Preservation Society and a summer resident of Hampton, said that the description of Vinland included in the sage corresponds with the description of the New England coast between Cape Cod and the Piscataqua River. Interpretations of the saga indicate that Thorwald and a small party sailed up the coast eastward into the mouth of a river and anchored on a headland jutting into the sea which was covered with trees.
Mrs. Frazer said that nut trees were mentioned as covering the headland and at the time both Boar's Heads were covered with them, and also that Great Boar's Head at that time extended about a mile and a half into the sea. The area where the stone was found has been proved by geologists, said Mrs. Frazer, to be the only clearing in the area.
Though there is no concrete proof that Thorwald ever visited the Hampton coast, Mrs. Frazer said that many scholars have come to believe he died there "through process of elimination."
The spot has been visited by archaeologists, anthropologists and geologists, some of whom, said Mrs. Frazer, want to leave their names out of it until there is more proof. State geologist Glen Steward determined that the stone was a glacial stone, perhaps 10,000 years old but told Mrs. Frazer that he believed the answer to the question of the inscription's significance would lie with the archaeologists.
Professor Forrest Henley of the University of Pennsylvania, said that the weathering of the inscriptions showed them to be about 800 years old.
Though it is generally agreed that the markings are the product of human labor and a Norwegian professor has determined that they are runic inscriptions, scholars vary in their interpretations of them, said Mrs. Frazer.
Participating in the dig this week will be an archaeologist from Phillips Exeter Academy and in October an anthropologist from the Harvard Peabody Museum is expected. The dig is expected to take several months as each shovel full has to be analyzed. The stone has been moved from its original spot approximately 10 to 20 feet so there is a wide area to be covered.
Harold Fernald, teacher of anthropology at Winnacunnet High School, said that they do not hope to find bones. He will be looking primarily for Viking iron trinkets as bones would have been leeched out of the sandy soil by this time. He said that records in town show that the site would have been under water at high tide.
Even more urgent than proving that Thorwald is buried there is the need to protect the stone, said Mrs. Frazer. People who come to look at the stone have been hacking pieces off or it, she said, and one day she stopped a man from Salisbury, Mass., who arrived with a truck and three helpers, prepared to remove the stone to Salisbury where he would sell tickets to tourists who wanted to look at it.
Mrs. Frazer deplored the lack of cooperation received from the state in regards to protecting the stone and researching its significance, through she said that Malcolm Taylor, present of the New Hampshire Conservation Commission, is presently attempting to get state funds.
Another problem Mrs. Frazer has been dealing with is many people's refusal to accept the possibility of anyone being here before Columbus. "I get a lot of letters protesting that Columbus was the first one here, some of them even suggest that it's not wise to look for anything before him."