Results of Recent Scientific Analysis of the Vinland Map: Can You Judge a Manuscript by its Ink?
Talk by Richard Hack, Marie-France Lemay, and Paula Zyats
Given online by the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University on November 21, 2022
Overview: The Vinland Map was introduced to the world in 1965, as a newly discovered mid-15th century map of the world, purportedly showing both Greenland and a part of the northern coast of the North American continent known as ‘Vinland’. Some viewed this as an exciting revelation that proved the Vikings were the first to reach America, at least 50 years before Columbus. Others remained skeptical; doubt over the map’s authenticity fueled decades of cartographical, historical, and scientific research.
This presentation will briefly trace the known history of the Vinland Map and its relationship with its seldom-mentioned companions, a 15th-century copy of the Beauvais’ Speculum Historiale, and a rare copy of a 13th-century travelogue, the Hystoria Tartarorum. This will be followed by a description of new discoveries made possible through the application of spectroscopy, multi-spectral imaging, and other scientific tools for the analysis of the parchment, paper, and ink found on these pieces. Science cannot be used to prove a work of art is genuine, but it is possible to establish that an object is likely a forgery if the materials from which it is made are inconsistent with the time period and geography of its purported origin.
Richard Hack is a conservation scientist with the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Marie-France Lemay is a paper conservator with Yale University Library, and Paula Zyats is assistant chief conservator with the library.