The Vinland Map, once considered one of the earliest representations of North America after its discovery by Europeans, has gone from famous to notorious: it turns out the map is completely wrong.
This is the verdict of the researchers who analyzed the ink on the map and discovered that it came from the 1920s. It is not quite the revolutionary 15th century mapping work that was claimed in the origin, but rather a deliberate infringement.
While major doubts had already been raised as to the authenticity of the Vinland map, the X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) and field emission scanning electron microscopy The techniques (FE-SEM) used here to assess chemicals in ink represent the most comprehensive examination of the document to date.
“The Vinland map is a fake”, says Raymond Clemens, curator of the earliest books and manuscripts in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, where the map is kept. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should close the case.”
While carbon dating places the parchment of the map at around 600 years old, the ink contains high levels of titanium and smaller amounts of barium – elements one would expect to find in the first commercially produced titanium white pigments years ago 1920.
Anatase, a form of titanium dioxide used during the same time period, can be found all over the map. There is none of the iron gall ink with which medieval scribes are known to have written, an ink composed of iron sulfate, powdered gallnut and a binding substance.
The researchers were also able to compare the Vinland map with manuscripts that actually date from the 15th century, finding much lower levels of titanium and much higher levels of iron in the ink used there.
On the back of the card is an inscription that links it to the Historical speculum, part of an encyclopedia written in the Middle Ages. This is probably where the counterfeit parchment came from, and new analysis reveals that the original Latin inscription was crushed with titanium ink – signs of deliberate forgery.
“The amended inscription certainly appears to be an attempt to make people believe that the map was created at the same time as the Speculum Historiale”, said Clemens. “This is powerful proof that this is a fake, 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.”
First offered to museums in 1957 with a short medieval text, the Vinland map shows the “Vinlanda Insula”, part of the North American coast in southwest Greenland. It was first thought to support the idea that the Vikings had reached the continent (and mapped it) long before Christopher Columbus.
While the northern colonization of North America is now widely accepted, this map is not proof of this – as we know from the time spent analyzing the document as well as from the comparisons with other historical works that have indeed been verified.
The researchers say the new analysis shows how the latest scanning equipment and techniques can help get definitive answers on which historical documents are genuine and which are not, allowing us to focus our time on the former.
“Objects like the Vinland map take up a lot of intellectual airspace”, said Clemens. “We don’t want this to continue to be a controversy. There are so many fun and fascinating things we should be looking at that can actually tell us something about exploration and travel in the medieval world.”