Vinland map

Missing image
the Vinland map

The Vinland map is purportedly a 15th century Mappa Mundi, redrawn from a 13th century original. Its importance is that, in addition to showing Africa, Asia and Europe, the map depicts a body of land across the Atlantic called Vinland, which the map describes as having been visited in the 11th century. It is believed by some that the map demonstrate that Viking explorers found and mapped the New World before Columbus did in 1492.

The map was discovered bound together with a codex, Historia Tartorum ("Description of the Tartars," sometimes referred to as the Tartar Relation). The Historia is a manuscript of undoubted authenticity that was at some point bound with the Vinland Map. It is a description of the history and manners of the Mongols that appears to be an early version of the memoir of Giovanni da Pian del Carpini (q.v. for full details), a Franciscan friar who in 1245 made a trip to the supreme khan at Karakoram. Carpini went on to write a fuller account of his travels, but the shorter "Tartar Relation" survived until the 15th century by being included as addendum to a volume of Vincent of Beauvais's encyclopedic "Historical Mirror" (Speculum historiale).

The map first came to light in 1957 and was donated with funds from Paul Mellon to its current owner, Yale University, in 1965; it is valued at around $18 million. It was first published by Skelton et al. The Vinland Map and Tartar Relation, 1965. In 1995 Yale released a second edition of the book, together with further articles in support of the map.


There have been a number of claims that the map is a forgery, and examinations by a number of institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution, have returned conflicting results. Radiocarbon dating places the origin of the parchment at around 1434, although the entire map appears to have been coated with an unknown substance sometime in the 1950s. This could have been part of a previously undocumented attempt at preservation, or could have been done by a forger as part of the process of drawing a new map on a previously-used piece of 15th century parchment. It is unclear whether the ink on the map is on top of this more recent layer of material or not.

Chemical analysis of the ink dated the map to after 1923 due to the presence of anatase (titanium dioxide) in the ink of the map. Anatase was not manufactured before the 1920s. Although Dr. Thomas Cahill of University of California, Davis found natural anatase in a variety of medieval manuscripts in 1992, the rounded crystals in the ink from the map were characteristic of synthetic origin. In July 2002, the authenticity of the map was again challenged. Utilising Raman spectroscopy, the drawings on the map are claimed to consist of simulated stains from the decay of an iron-based ink, although the ink itself is carbon-based and should have generated no decay stains. All of the other pages of the Historia Tartorum and Speculum historiale were written using standard medieval iron-based ink. Nevertheless, chemist Jacqueline Olin, a retired researcher with the Smithsonian Institution, has concluded that the map's ink was made in medieval times. Her article appears in the December (2003) issue of the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Finally, there are a number of questions about the actual content of the map. The most obvious anomaly is that the map depicts Greenland as an island of the correct size and shape, although most contemporary Viking accounts — including a rare map from 1427 — depict Greenland as a peninsula descending from the north. Indeed, Greenland was not successfully circumnavigated until the turn of the 20th century. In addition, the text uses a Latin form of Leif Ericson's name ("erissonius") more consistent with 17th century norms.

Whether or not the map is genuine, it has been independently proved to general satisfaction that Greenland was settled by Vikings around 970, a settlement which lasted until the fifteenth century, while the archeological finds in L'Anse aux Meadows (on Newfoundland) show that at that place there was a further (probably short-lived) Viking settlement.

See also

External links

de:Vinland-Karte sv:Vinland-kartan


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