Material Culture
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Internet Myth? The Vinland Map

Featured Image: Vinland Map (Wikipedia | HuMcCulloch | CC-BY-SA 4.0).

The Plot

According to the sagas, Leif Eiriksson explores the area around Greenland during the Viking Age. Somewhere on his travels, he finds wine grapes. That land is then known as ‘Vinland’. No one knows where Vinland is… until a map emerges in the twentieth century.

In 1957, this map appears outside the public eye. It shows an island, close to Greenland, called Vinlandia Insula. The map is inside a medieval edition of Hystoria Tartarorum (13th c.) offered to Yale by a London bookseller. But the librarian discovers that the wormholes in the map and the manuscript do not line up. Also, there is no answer to the question of provenance. So, Yale lets the manuscript go. But the book returns via a private collector who wants to see the authenticity of the map revealed.

Meanwhile, Yale receives another book from that London bookseller, the Speculum Historiale. The librarian immediately sees the wormholes, and how they line up with those in the Hystoria Tartarorum. The HT and SH are genuine and therefore, the map seems genuine too, despite the lack of provenance. And then, the discovery of L’Anse aux Meadows hits the headlines in 1960. Suddenly, there is evidence of ‘Vikings’ in northern America before Christopher Columbus, and here is the map, too…

The Truth

It is indeed all too good to be true. The questions about the map’s authenticity keep returning and returning. At the conference hosted by the Smithsonian in 1965, many questions are raised and many issues pointed out. Radiocarbon-dating in later years shows the pages indeed date to the fifteenth century. But the researchers still find the handwriting nineteenth century rather than medieval.

In the decades thereafter, the ink is seriously scrutinized. Now, in 2021, a new study examines the map in full with all modern techniques available. The pages are also compared to existing copies of the HT and SH. The ink is confirmed to have twentieth-century elements and hardly any iron, thus making it modern and not medieval ink. Furthermore, whilst the pages are genuinely fifteenth century, on the back, researchers found medieval text by a bookbinder, explaining where the pages should go in the manuscript. Someone has written with modern ink across this text, giving the impression the map is part of the SH.

So, in short, the Vinland map is a confirmed fake. A myth. Good to strike that one from the list!

For further reading, and sources of this article, see: Yale News, Ars Technica.

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