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The Vinland Map

15th Century Map Claims Early Scandinavian Exploration of North America

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Updated January 13, 2010
Some claim that the Vinland Map is a 15th-century map of the North Atlantic based on Scandinavian discoveries. It first appeared on the world stage in the 1960s. The map clearly outlines Western Europe and the area known as Scandinavia. West of Scandinavia, in the North Atlantic, Greenland and Iceland are shown. Southwest of Greenland is an island labeled Vinland. The island is believed to depict the Northeast coast of what is now North America, with two large inlets, most likely representing Hudson Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

It is unknown whether or not the map is a real 15th century map or a forgery.

The Tartar Relation

The map was discovered bound in the pages of a small book called The Tartar Relation. The book dates back to 1440 and is known to be authentic. It is a description of the history and manners of the Mongols put together by Giovanni Da Pian Del Carpini, a Franciscan friar.

History of the Vinland Map

The Vinland Map first appeared in the early 1960s with its authenticity backed by Yale University, which is the custodian of the map. The authenticity of the map was first questioned in 1966 when the Smithsonian Institution recommended that the map be studied scientifically to determine if it was genuine.

In 1974, the ink on the map was tested and it was found to contain trace amounts of anatase (titanium dioxide), particles that, according to Walter C. McCrone and Lucy B. McCrone of the McCrone Research Institute, did not appear in ink until 1920, do not occur in nature, and could not have been manufactured in medieval times.

In 1976, however, Jacqueline Olin of Smithsonian's Conservation Analytical Laboratory released a study that seemed to contradict McCrone's findings. It found that anatase can, in fact, be a by-product of the medieval process of making oak-gall ink. (More information regarding studies of the anatase can be found here.).

Arguments went back and forth for the next few decades, until 2002, when the parchment was carbon-dated. The carbon dating found that the parchment was near the same age as The Tartar Relation, dating to about 1430. Questions were then raised as to whether the map was indeed genuine or if it was a forgery drawn on a blank piece of parchment taken out of The Tartar Relation.

Another study was also done in 2002 by Katherine L. Brown and Robin J.H. Clark of University College London which confirmed the presence of significant anatase at selected points on the map.

The Vinland Map Today

In the last decade alone, several studies have been done that have both "proved" and "disproved" the authenticity of the map. The debate is still alive with both sides working to find an indisputable piece of evidence that will prove whether or not the map is a forgery. Most recently, the map was discussed at the International Conference on the History of Cartography in July 2009. It was, once again, not concluded if the map was authentic or forged.

Conclusion

When the map first appeared in the 1960s, it was received with both enthusiasm and debate. Many believed it to be a forgery, while many did not doubt its authenticity. If the map is indeed authentic, it proves that the Scandinavians explored parts of North America well before Christopher Columbus. If the map is a forgery, it is one of the most well-executed forgeries of all time.
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