Three decades after Yale scholars announced the discovery of the medieval Vinland Map and 25 years after chemical analysis suggested the map’s forgery, researchers have vindicated the map’s authenticity.
Yale University Press held a conference Saturday to celebrate the new edition of “The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation,” which includes new evidence indicating the validity of the map.
In 1965, the discovery of the map — a very accurate Viking drawing of the northeastern coast of North America — challenged the original theory that Christopher Columbus was the first European to set foot on American soil.
“No map has been a subject of greater controversy than the Vinland Map,” said Wilcomb Washburn, Director of the American Studies Program at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. “The play of human emotions effects the consideration of truth in history.”
The international conference brought together authors, renowned scientists, and scholars who have dedicated their lives to search for the truth behind the Vinland Map, and discuss new theories and data that support the authenticity of the map.
“[The Vinland Map is so] highly studied it was a unique document” in itself, said Thomas Cahill of the University of California at Davis, who attended the conference.
In 1965, Yale researchers discovered the Vinland Map in a small medieval volume purchased by Paul Mellon ’29 and shocked the academic world. The map — dated before 1440 — is significant because of a black ink drawing of an island in the upper left hand corner. The island is labeled Vinlandia Insula (Island of Vinland, land of vines), and the coast of Northeastern America is unmistakable.
If the representation is authentic, then the Vinland Map is the only one drawn before Columbus’ voyage depicting North America.
An authentic Vinland Map is certain proof that the Vikings discovered North America first.
The Vinland Map appears on a single sheet of vellum, which has the consistency of a very thick sheet of tracing paper. It measures 11 x 16 inches and folds down the middle.
When folded in half, the map fits perfectly into a book of manuscripts where researchers theorize it existed for hundreds of years.
In 1972, the results of chemical analysis of the map’s ink raised doubts about its authenticity. McCrone Associates’ Walter McCrone — who attended Saturday’s conference — removed and analyzed portions of the map’s ink. McCrone concluded that the ink contained a significant amount of titanium anatase in it, a material scientists thought was invented after 1920.
So in 1974, researchers declared the Vinland Map a forgery, shattering
scholarly reputations and years of research.
At last weekend’s high-powered conference — which included Chester Kerr ’36, former Yale University Press director for more than thirty years — scholars discussed new evidence reestablishing the map’s credibility.
In 1985, Yale’s Beinecke Library secretly lent UC Davis’ Cahill the map for four days, he said.
Cahill and his colleagues performed a series of chemical tests to determine the map’s ink’s components. Cahill used PIXIE — particle-induced x-ray emission tests — to determine the substances of the ink as a whole, and not just a few fragments.
He found only a minute presence of the titanium anatase, which scientists have since discovered occurs naturally. As a result, a medieval scholar’s ink could conceivably contain this substance.
“The Vinland Map does not in any way stand out from the 150 medieval manuscripts already analyzed [at UC Davis],” Cahill said.
Cahill said he could easily account for the disparity between his results and McCrone results.
“The interpretation of the same data can be quite divergent,” Cahill said.
In a letter to current Yale University Press Director John Ryden, McCrone wrote that he sands by his original research and still believes the Vinland Map is a forgery.
“I will now play my cards by writing what I would have written [for the new edition] had I been asked. My title would have been: ‘The Vinland Map, Still a 20th Century Fake.”
At the conference, tension rose as discussion of the map’s authenticity continued.
“How can you claim authenticity for anything?” Cahill said.
Jacqueline Olin, also from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. offered other evidence that the titanium anatase occurred naturally in the ink of the scholar who made the Vinland Map.
In medieval times, Olin said, scholars made ink through a process which created green vitoral, the primary substance used for ink in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
The process also produced a byproduct of titanium anatase. The titanium anatase could easily have contaminated the ink solution, Olin said.
But both Olin and Cahill pointed out one questionable fact: two different kinds of inks appear on the map, one for the map itself.
Currently, scientists are carbon-dating the parchment of the Vinland Map. Though it was not officially announced, several people in attendance said the date of the parchment is compatible with the date scholars believe the Vikings made the map.
Mellon, who anonymously donated the million dollar map to Beinecke Library in 1965, was scheduled to appear at the conference.
But the plane Mellon chartered to fly into the conference experienced technical difficulties, and Tweed-New Haven airport could not accommodate his jet.
Mellon was expected to publicly acknowledge his anonymous donation for the first time, speakers said. Kerr said Mellon had stated earlier, “I think it is about time I took credit for once.”