The Vinland Map-Is It a fake?

A recent article in the BOSTON GLOBE, relates that the Yale University-owned “Vinland” Map has been radio-carbon dated to ca. 1430. I belive that the late Dr. Walter McCrone analyzed themap. and decided that it was a fake, because:
-the black lines on the map were composed of a pigment containing a titanium compund-a pigment unknown until 1925.
-the yellow staining surrounding the black lines were made by a forger-the yellow stains contained iron oxide, which would not have been present in medieval-era ink
-the wormholes in the vellum appeared to be artificially produced
Now, the radiocarbon dating seems to confirm his judgement. What I found starnge was that the map showed greenland to be an island- something that was unknown to geographers until Peary’s explorations of 1909.
So, what is Yale to do? Exhibit a fake, and become a laughingstock? Or, should they admit their error-and destroy this spurious document?
I prefer to think that museums ought to examone their holdings-perhaps much of what we think is ancient is in fact modern fogery.:smack:

Or they could exhibit the map, and explain that there’s a dispute about it’s authenticity.

Brookhaven National Laboratory says the parchment itself is precolumbian. The ink may not necessarily be modern, but cannot be verified either way.


Do an exhibit on famous forgeries?

The actual map does have value, in that it’s famous, and well-known.

Why would this be a big problem for Yale? They paid nothing for it in the first place - Paul Mellon donated it to them - and, although Yale University Library has defended its authenticity over the years, everyone would happily praise them if, in the face of clear evidence of fakery, they now reconsidered that verdict. (That, of course, assumes that there is now clear evidence of fakery, a point that remains controversial.) They were never going to sell it, so any loss of value is only theoretical and what they would be left with is one of the world’s most valuable fakes. As it is, other world-class museums and libraries openly display fakes, clearly labelling them as such, and it is only about ten years since the British Museum held a major exhibition on the subject. All curators know that there is always a chance that they’ll be the next to be caught out.

No one, to my knowledge, ever claimed the map was older than the first half of the 15th century. Supporters of its authenticity have always said that the map was part of a copy of the Tartar Relation, which deals with events of the 13th century. Analysis of the handwriting and language of the book and map indicate they are at least in the style of the period 1425-1450. As far as I know, not even its most ardent supporters have ever claimed that the map was actually made in the 11th century by Vikings, but they did claim that it was based on information or maps going back to the Viking era.

Some skeptics have been unwilling to believe that the map is pre-Columbian at all, and believe it is entirely a modern hoax. The modern conception of the shape of Greenland is one important clue. Until long after the supposed date of the Vinland map, most maps that showed Greenland at all showed it as being attached to Eurasia by an imaginary bridge of land well north of the Arctic circle. See, for example, the Zeno map from 1558. Greenland is the large peninsula on the left. The largest island is Iceland. Most of the other islands shown are imaginary, but northernmost Scotland can be seen at the bottom edge, right of center.

Another point for the skeptics came in the early 1970s when tests revealed the presence of anatase, a crystaline titanium dioxide pigment which was not synthesized until the 1920s. Far from trying to hide the fact, it was Yale University that announced the results. But in the 1980s, true believers shot back by showing that anatase exists in nature and is found in other (genuine) medieval documents, so the titanium issue is pretty much inconclusive.

However, it is not necessary to assume that the map is either all fake or all authentic. In the 1990s, Brookhaven National Laboratory discovered that the ink used to draw Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland was of a different composition from that used to draw the rest of the map. The most reasonable explanation I have come across is that the part of the map depicting Europe, Asia, and Africa is genuine (and pre-Columbian), while the part depicting Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland is a modern addition, probably a hoax perpetrated sometime between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. This theory is consistent with both the radiocarbon dating (because the material really is that old) and the modern conception of the shape of Greenland (because that part was added after the true shape became known).

Whether Lawrence Witten (the Connecticut book collector who says he bought it in Europe in the 1950s) was in on the hoax or not is still up in the air.

I should note that it is not necessary to assume the map is genuine to know that the Vikings visited North America in the early 11th century. Two Icelandic sagas have long been known to state this fact, and it was confirmed by archeological excavations at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. Other writings indicate Greenlanders of Scandinavian descent continued to make timber runs to Labrador until at least 1347.

To Bibliophage (“eater of books”?): I remember that Yale was roundly criticized for announcing the acquisition of the “Vinland map”, because New haven’s large (then) Italian-American population was so fond of Columbus.
But, is there any evidence that the Vikings used maps at all? As far as I recall, Viking captains used “rutters”-which were written sailing directions, such as “steer NNW for 2 days, then turn due south, sail for 3 days, etc.”. At any rate, the faking of medieval artefacts seems to be a big business, a while back I read that most of a NY museums Etruscan collection is probably fakes.

Finally more definitive information is available:

Great addition to the thread, I hope @ralph124c is out there someplace where he can see that article.

Interesting. I wonder “why” someone would create this forgery? Why would someone want to suggest the Norse had been to North America earlier than Columbus? The article suggests the forgery contains ink from around the 1920s - so if someone was creating this scam in that time frame, why?

We know that they were settling in North America over 500 years before Columbus.

As to why, money probably. But there was also an anti-immigrant, anti-Italian sentiment in the States at the time.


Low probability reason, much more likely after 1980ish: It was a fictional map, for someone’s writing or a game. JRR Tolkien types back then, D&D players more recently.

Was there a Monty Python back then doing “Norse in America” sketches?

Unlikely, as per PastTense’s linked article: it was a deliberate forgery.

I think that’s beyond low probability - it’s essentially a nil probability. It’s far too elaborate for a mere proto-LARP prop. It’s drawn on real piece of early 15th Century parchment. It had fake wormholes place to match up with wormholes in the entirely authentic copy of the Tartar Relation it was bound into. It was very clearly intended to fool experts.

As to why, well, in the 1920s, the idea that the Norse had travelled to North America before Columbus was popular among Scandinavians and their descendants in the U.S., but largely dismissed by the Anglo establishment. It might have been a “pious fraud”, much like the Kensington Runestone.

Or, y’know, $$$. The earliest known European map of North America, which incidentally proved pre-Columbian contact by Scandinavians, would potentially be worth quite a bit to a collector or museum.

As to this latest bit of evidence, it seems like every 20 years or so, someone basically reconfirms Walter McCrone’s 1972 analysis.

I look forward to the next re-examination in 20 years or so when someone uses a quantum computer to create a 3D molecular model of the map and the inks and re-re-re-confirms that the ink dates from the 1920s. And 20 or so years after that when someone uses parallel universe processing to identify the particular batch of ink produced in the 1920s that was used. And 20 or so years after that when a weakly godlike AI reconstructs its past lightcone to show the forger creating the map in the 1920s.

And, of course, to the believers who will still cling to the possibility that all of those analyses are somehow wrong and maintain that it’s still possible the Vinland Map is authentic.

From what I understand, the rest of the map is probably genuine. It’s just the Vinland part that was added recently. So the period paper and the worm holes are legit.

No. As the announcement from Yale put it, the Map ‘is awash in 20th-century ink’, which ‘pervades the map’s lines and text’.

Well, there ya go. “Awash” seems pretty definitive.

Entirely possible that it was an old map and the added Vinland part didn’t match the original state of the map so creator had to touch them up too.