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The Map in Question


Viking Deception homepage

Black ink

Black Ink
When researchers at the British Museum first subjected the faded black pigment to scientific scrutiny in 1967, they were struck by how different it seemed from most medieval inks. Medieval iron-gall inks, including those used on the Tartar Relation and Speculum Historiale, usually appear dark under ultraviolet light, but this pigment fluoresces. In the 1990s scientists Robin Clark and Katherine Brown, using a newly developed technique known as Raman probe spectroscopy, confirmed that the pigment is carbon-based and unlike the iron-based inks historians would expect to see on a genuine medieval map.



Yellow-brown lines

Yellow-Brown Lines
A debate has raged for decades over whether or not the yellow-brown lines of the map hold the telltale sign of forgery. In the 1970s, researchers at Walter McCrone and Associates, a firm specializing in chemical analysis, examined ultramicroscopic samples from the yellowish lines. They identified crystals of the mineral anatase in a particular rounded form that was manufactured only after around 1920. In the 1980s, a group of researchers lead by physicist Thomas Cahill of the University of California, Davis challenged the McCrone findings, suggesting that the McCrone team mistakenly sampled paint that had fallen onto the inked lines of the map from a modern ceiling. More recent work using Raman probe spectroscopy has corroborated the McCrone discovery of the suspicious mineral crystals.



Off-register lines

Off-Register Lines
The lines of the map appear aged and worn, yellow-brown in color with flakes of black pigment on top. Was the map drawn with a single application of black ink, most of which flaked off, leaving behind a yellow-brown stain or binding agent? Or, as chemical analyst Walter McCrone asserts, did a forger mimic this effect? At one spot on the west coast of Great Britain, the yellow-brown and black lines appear out of register. Smithsonian scientist Kenneth Towe points to this as evidence that the yellow-brown line was drawn separately. Researchers at the University of California, Davis who defend the map's authenticity counter that this is the only place on the map where the lines don't match up and that it could be the mark of a medieval scribe retracing a sketchy line with fresh ink. Even some skeptics of the map reject the idea of a "double-inking."



Parchment date

Parchment Date
The map is drawn on parchment, animal hide that can be radiocarbon dated. University of Arizona researchers, who had to destroy a sliver of parchment for the test, selected a fragment at the bottom edge unmarked by text or drawing. Their results dated the parchment to within 11 years of 1434, the time frame noted by the map's defenders. But the test merely proved that the parchment was medieval, not the ink of the map itself. A forger would likely have used an old parchment to give his or her work an authentic air and could have even used parchment from the Speculum Historiale itself, which appears to have at least one section missing.



Atomic-era substance

Atomic-Era Substance
The researchers who dated the parchment first had to clean off a carbon-based coating either on the map's surface or embedded in its fabric. The exact nature of this coating remains controversial, but it clearly contains carbon dating to the mid-20th century. It appears to have been deliberately applied to the parchment around the time of the map's emergence in the 1950s. The atomic-era substance may simply reflect an undocumented attempt in the 1950s to conserve an authentic medieval map, but it may also be a sign of forgery. If a forger used a 15th-century parchment, he or she likely would have scrubbed it clean of markings and then prepared a smooth surface on which to draw, perhaps with this substance.



Vinland text

Vinland Text
The longest caption, and certainly the most discussed part of the map, claims that Viking adventurers reached American shores hundreds of years before Columbus. It was hardly the first such claim—two Icelandic sagas include tales of Vinland, and a forger could have garnered details from these sagas and other historical sources. The map's Latin text notes that Leif Eriksson was together with a companion named Bjarni when he discovered Vinland, a curious detail that Norse scholar Kirsten Seaver says runs counter to the information in the sagas and originated with a history of Greenland written in 1765. Skeptics of the map also point to the Latin translation of Eriksson ("erissonius") as a red flag. A medieval scribe would likely have used the separate word "filius" for "-sson." The use of "-sonius" became common only after 1600.



Island of Greenland

Island of Greenland
The appearance of Greenland as an island troubled even the experts who helped "authenticate" the map for Yale in the 1960s. The Norse undoubtedly colonized Greenland by A.D. 1000, but medieval Scandinavian accounts suggest that Greenland was not perceived to be an island. An undisputed map from 1427 depicts Greenland as the end of a peninsula stretching toward the arctic north. Arctic ice conditions made sailing along Greenland's northern coast treacherous, if not impossible, and the first piecemeal circumnavigation of Greenland was completed around the turn of the 20th century. What's more, the outline of Greenland—with its detailed coastline—is suspiciously similar to Greenland's depiction on modern maps.



Scandanavia

Scandinavia
It is odd that a map providing intricate details of Viking exploration depicts the Viking homeland of Scandinavia in such a sketchy and inaccurate way. The map shows Norway—Rex Noruicorum—as an immense peninsula stretching over the Baltic Sea and wrongly locates Sweden—Rex Suedorum—south of the Baltic. Defenders of the Vinland Map never claimed that the map's author was Scandinavian, but they have suggested that the medieval scribe used Scandinavian as well as Venetian maps as references.



Vinland

Vinland
This large island with two deep bays gave the map its name and propelled it to fame and notoriety. To the right of the island, a Latin label reads, in translation, "Island of Vinland discovered by Bjarni and Leif in company." The Norse sagas tell of Vinland as a fertile place of wild grapes, but they offer only a vague geographic description, lacking the quite specific details shown on the map. It is also puzzling why a medieval scribe would have singled out Vinland and not have included other locations in North America that the Norse explored and later described in the sagas, such as Helluland and Markland.



Wormholes

Wormholes
Rare book collector Laurence Witten, who bought the map from an Italian dealer in 1957, was thrilled to find that holes in it lined up with holes in the front pages of the Speculum Historiale. In turn, a hole in the later pages of the Speculum had a match in the front pages of the Tartar Relation. This evidence, linking the map with two medieval documents, helped seal Witten's sale of it to Yale for an undisclosed but exorbitant price. The map's nine holes don't appear to have been made with a drill, and some go directly through lines of ink. But skeptics point out that they are located more in the center than at the edges of the map, where worms would likely nibble. A forger could have bound the map together with the authentic documents and then set some hungry worms to work. No one knows the age of the holes.



Handwriting

Handwriting
The Yale team that declared the map authentic in the 1960s believed it was written in the same hand as the Tartar Relation and Speculum Historiale, but others don't agree. When the map was shown to the Keeper of Manuscripts at the British Museum in 1957, he rejected it in part because he thought the handwriting had a 19th-century look. Several paleographers (experts in ancient writing), including the woman who catalogued the map and the other two texts for Yale in the 1980s, point to differences in the handwriting of the map and its supposed companions. Kirsten Seaver goes further—spotting similarities, including a horizontally looped "d" and a wavering tendency, in both the map's writing and the hand of Father Josef Fischer (1858-1944), a Jesuit expert on medieval geography whom Seaver considers the map's true author.



Page fold

Page Fold
Whoever drew the Vinland Map appears to have done as much as possible to avoid drawing across the page fold. Geographic names are positioned to either side of the fold, rather than crossing it. The Adriatic Sea is even widened so that Greece and Italy lie safely to the sides of the fold, and some European rivers appear re-routed to avoid it. Knowing that the map would be folded, would a medieval scribe have avoided marking this area? Or is this fold-avoidance a clue that a modern map was made on an old piece of parchment, long after the fold crease developed?



River Tatartata

River Tatartata
This name, like many of the geographic labels on the map, appears to have been copied from the first few pages of the Tartar Relation. On the first page of this authentic text, two words, "tatar" and "tata," are next to one another. Punctuation that should separate the two words is missing. The Vinland Map author mistakenly joins them as one word on the map. Was this copying mistake made by a medieval scribe or a 20th-century forger trying to draw links between an authentic text and a forged map?

Back to top




The Viking Deception
The Forger's Inspiration

The Forger's Inspiration
Early maps and tales likely influenced the Vinland Map's author.

Who Were the Vikings?

Who Were the Vikings?
William Fitzhugh reveals what drove the Vikings.

The Map in Question

The Map in Question
Is it authentic? Examine the entire map and decide for yourself.

Famous Fakes

Famous Fakes
Hitler's diaries, Howard Hughes's autobiography—see other famous forgeries.



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