Scientists and cartographers at Yale University have decided once and for all that the Vinland Map, purportedly showing Norse settlements in North America in 1440, half a century before Columbus, is a fraud.
For one thing, they have determined that the ink used on the map contains a titanium compound that wasn’t invented until the 1920s. For another, the map is just too good, the coast too detailed, for even expert seamen like the Vikings to have charted in 1440. Finally, seamen didn’t use maps to navigate back then anyway; navigation details were passed on largely by word of mouth.
“The Vinland Map is a fake,” said Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale in a statement from the university. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”
What we know about the map is that Laurence Witten, an antiquarian in New Haven, Connecticut, acquired it from an unnamed source in Europe in 1957. Witten then sold it to Paul Mellon, the philanthropist, who gave it to Yale in 1965.
At that time, some scholars said it was a medieval treasure that showed evidence of the Viking explorations in North America. The curator of maps at Yale then said it was an “amazingly accurate” rendering of Greenland. But others raised doubts about its authenticity; the parchment didn’t seem right for 1440, and the map was simply too good.
Some said it was the work of an artist looking at a 20th century map. Gisli Sigurdsson, a professor of Norse studies at the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland, said that the Greenland on the map “is so close to the real Greenland, it’s hard to believe anyone in the Middle Ages would have drawn a map like that.”
Now Yale wants to put the entire matter to rest. “Objects like the Vinland Map soak up a lot of intellectual air space,” said Clemens, the Beinecke curator. “We don’t want this to continue to be a controversy.” Read more: