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Questions over Heavener site stir debate

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HEAVENER, Okla. (AP) -- One man's theory that the Heavener Runestone is much younger than thought has captured the curiosity of a state senator.

Sen. Larry Dickerson, D-Poteau, has asked the University of Oklahoma to send an archaeology team to the runestone site to consider if the stone slab is a monument to assassinated 17th-century French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, instead of Viking origin as long believed.

Lee Woodard, a Sallisaw minister, raises the new theory in a new self-published book, "Secret La Salle Monument and Historical Marker."

He contends the slab that is the focus of Heavener's 50-acre Runestone State Park was a La Salle contemporary's way of secretly honoring the explorer as well as noting his death and burial mound. The book postulates that La Salle was murdered by his own men near the Poteau River and then buried.

"Even if it turns out not to be true and that it is a Nordicrune, what harm does it cause us by protecting the burial mound to find out what we can learn from that?" Dickerson said.

Where others see only eight Scandinavian letters on the 10-by-12-foot slab, Woodard sees symbols like the head of a sleeping rooster, a cat's head and a demon. When deciphered, Woodard said these symbols led him to what he believes is the burial mound of La Salle.

The site is just outside of Poteau.

Eddie Hurst, longtime superintendent of the state park, holds to the Nordic theory but adds, "Everyone is entitled to their opinion."

The official translation of the letters is "Glomedal." Scholars believe Glome was the name of a Viking who claimed the valley or "dal" as his own.

Gloria Farley, a Heavener woman who has studied the runestone for 52 years and wrote about it in her book "In Plain Sight," doesn't buy the new theory either.

"He is basing his interpretations on natural cracks, protuberances and depressions on stone as script, maps and petroglyphs," she said.

Woodard, however, feels he has the evidence to prove his theory and knows it is most threatening to those who believe the slab is a runestone.

"Some folks just want to maintain that Viking mystique," he said.
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