An exhaustive analysis of the controversial Vinland map has shown it to be a 20th century forgery.
“The Vinland map is a fake,” Raymond Clemens, curator at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University, Yale News said. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should close the case.
Clemens, along with Yale University curators Marie-France Lemay and Paula Zyats, as well as scientists from the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, conducted an in-depth analysis of the Vinland map, which was revealed in 1957 when the British Museum, after suspecting a fake, refused to buy it from a dealer. Yale eventually acquired the parchment map, announcing its existence to the public in 1965. A scientific book has been written about it, and it even managed to honor the cover page from the New York Times.
The map, believed to date back to the 15th century, was a big deal because it added weight to the claim that the Vikings landed in North America before Christopher Columbus. An apparent section of the North American coast, labeled “Vinlanda Insula”, can be seen just southwest of Greenland. To be fair, this proof – that the Vikings landed in the Americas so long ago – was a big deal back then, but not a big deal. In the 1960s, archaeological finds from Viking settlements in L’Anse aux Prés in Newfoundland had already suggested it.
The fact that the Vinland map could be a fake was suspected from the start. Scholars immediately pointed out inconsistencies with other medieval texts, while work in the 1970s hinted at the presence of modern inks. The purpose of this most recent investigation was to perform the most in-depth analysis to date and examine the parchment from top to bottom with newly available high-tech tools, such as X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF). , scanning field emission electron microscopy (FE -SEM), and Raman microscopy. A big bonus was that the team could keep the card for as long as the investigation required.
Radiocarbon dating of the parchment placed it between 1400 and 1460 CE, which corresponds well with previous efforts to date the Vinland map. But if the parchment was old, the ink certainly wasn’t. Medieval scribes used ink containing iron sulfate, powdered gall nuts, and a binder. The ink found in the lines and text of the Vinland map, however, contained virtually no iron or sulfur, and instead contained a lot of titanium. Previous work had shown titanium at specific points, but the new study showed how well the compound existed across the map.
An analysis of dozens of 15th-century Central European manuscripts revealed levels of titanium much lower and levels of lead much higher than the levels detected on the Vinland map. At the same time, titanium pigment inks were not available until the 1920s. FE-SEM analysis led scientists to conclude that the particles on the map were produced in Norway in 1923.
Overwhelming evidence was also found on the back: a Latin inscription with modified instructions on how to bind the card in the Historical speculum—A real 15th century manuscript. For the unknown creator of this card, the attempted forgery was very real.
“The modified inscription certainly appears to be an attempt to trick people into believing that the card was created at the same time as the Historical speculum“Clemens told Yale News.” This is powerful proof that this is a forgery, not an innocent creation by a third party that was co-opted by someone else, although it does not tell us who perpetrated the deception. “
With the card now proven to be a counterfeit, the question arises as to why anyone would care. Writing in the Smithsonian, David M. Perry and Matthew Gabriele, authors of The Shining Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe, offered some possible explanations:
A wave of Viking nostalgia in the early 20th century may have inspired a forger to create the supposedly medieval map. As Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America and expert in manuscript production, says, “The motivation for manuscript forgery is usually financial or political. In the case of the Vinland map, both are quite possible. […]
As medieval literature expert Dorothy Kim wrote for Time in 2019, 19th-century nationalists seeking to create new political and racial myths turned to Viking history as their source. American poets composed new Viking epics, and in 1893 a Norwegian captain sailed a replica of a Viking ship to the Chicago World’s Fair, winning praise both in his home country and among Scandinavian immigrants to the United States.
In northern towns, local groups inspired at least in part by anti-Catholic (and, subsequently, anti-Columbus and anti-Italian) sentiment erected Viking statues. It is no coincidence that the announcement of Yale’s acquisition of the Vinland map came on the eve of Columbus Day in 1965. Sometimes the myth of Viking America may seem trivial enough, but the story has always had potential for exploitation by those seeking to claim North American history for whites.
We may never know the real reason or the person responsible for the card, but it’s a relief that scientists have finally been able to demonstrate the tampering with excellent evidence. As Clemens said, these kinds of objects tend to “absorb a lot of intellectual airspace” and his team “don’t want this to continue to be a controversy.” The researchers will now write a research article on this work and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal.
Following: Jack the Ripper letters were fake news, linguistic analysis suggests.