Tucked in the woods, tucked in the Ouachita foothills, tucked just inside Oklahoma’s stateline with Arkansas stands a sandstone slab that untucks plenty of debate.
The Heavener runestone, about 12 feet tall, 10 feet wide and 16 inches thick, with eight carved letters on it, has made historians, archaeologists and runologists wonder just what the futhark is going on.
Those letters, from 6 inches to 9.5 inches tall, form a rune – a message in a Germanic alphabet predating the use of Latin letters in northern Europe. Some argue that the letters are from Elder futhark, the oldest known runic alphabet; others claim Younger futhark or a mixture of the two.
“We go with the theory put forth by Gloria Farley,” says Amanda Garcia, manager of the Heavener Runestone Park. “She’s the reason the park got started years ago and that’s how it was presented.”
Farley, a Heavener native, researched the stone, once called Indian Rock by locals, in the 1950s and ‘60s. She concluded that the rune dates to about 600 and was a boundary marker, with the letters translating to “Glome dal,” or land belonging to a person named Glome.
Farley, who died in 2006, first saw the stone when she was a girl. Her work ultimately led to the site being turned into a state park from 1970 to 2011, when severe budget cuts led to its decommissioning. A volunteer-led nonprofit, Friends of the Heavener Runestone, has run the park since then.
Farley’s theories are contradicted by archaeologist Richard Nielsen and renowned runologist Henrik Williams. They have examined the Heavener rune and say the most likely explanation is that a 19th-century traveler who knew something about futhark inscribed the message, which they classify as contradictory in styles and logic.
They also point to no other Viking-era or seventh-century ruins near the runestone or Heavener. There’s no method to scientifically date the rune itself.
Williams said in 2015 that the letters roughly translate to gnome valley or little valley. He added that there’s no evidence of Europeans from those ancient times in Oklahoma.
The Heavener Runestone Park, which draws about 1,500 visitors monthly, does not have a manager in charge of interpretation, like at most national parks, so competing theories are not presented.
The park is financed through contributions and events, such as the Heavener Runestone Festival, April 18-19. Replacing the longtime Heavener Viking Festival, the fundraiser expands its offerings with medieval and Renaissance activities.