A new analysis shows that the ink used in the Vinland Map was created no earlier than the 1920s, which further demonstrates that the famous item purportedly showing a medieval view of the Americas is actually a modern-day forgery.
“The Vinland Map is a fake,” explains Raymond Clemens to Yale University News. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”
Clemens, a curator of early books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, led the new research, in which they used X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and Raman microscopy to scan the entire map. It revealed that much of the map was sketched using an ink made of titanium and barium. This particular type of ink was first made in Norway in 1923.
The team also discovered that another inscription once on the back of the document, which they believe was a bookbinder’s note on how to assemble the original manuscript of the Speculum Historiale, but that was overwritten with modern ink. They believe that the forger took otherwise empty pages from that 15th-century manuscript and then drew the map on it.
“The altered inscription certainly seems like an attempt to make people believe the map was created at the same time as the Speculum Historiale,” adds Clemens. “It’s powerful evidence that this is a forgery, not an innocent creation by a third party that was co-opted by someone else, although it doesn’t tell us who perpetrated the deception.”
The Vinland Map is a map of the world that shows both Greenland and a western Atlantic island called “Vinilanda Insula.” If it was real, the map would be among the first documented evidence of the Norse exploration of northeastern North America, which they termed as Vinland.
Where the map came from and how it came into the hands of a Swiss dealer after World War Two remain a mystery. It was bought from a dealer by an American after the British Museum turned it down in 1957. It was subsequently bought for Yale University by a wealthy Yale alumnus, Paul Mellon, and published with fanfare in 1965. However, over the decades there has been considerable debate about the map’s authenticity, with research examining the parchment it was made on, the wormholes in the document, and the composition of its ink.
In 2018, Raymond Clemens and others from Yale University led new research which showed that the map was probably a modern-day creation, and that the image itself was based on an 18th-century map – it even included that map’s mistakes.
Clemens hopes that the new research will put an end to the debate over the Vinland Map’s authenticity. “Objects like the Vinland Map soak up a lot of intellectual air space,” he says. “We don’t want this to continue to be a controversy. There are so many fun and fascinating things that we ought to be examining that can actually tell us something about exploration and travel in the medieval world.”
The story of the map's time in New Haven is fascinating. In the 1960s, the Italian-American community was furious that the map, when thought to be authentic, "proved" that other explorers from Europe had crossed the Atlantic before Columbus (gasp!) (nvm that we knew that already)
— Lisa Fagin Davis (@lisafdavis) September 2, 2021