Updated: Sep 29, 2021
The Viking map of the world, called the Vinland Map, has been a source of debate for decades. Now it appears it may not be what it seems.
In 1957, a book dealer approached the British Museum with a 15th-century map on parchment that showed the outline of North America, as well as the rest of the known world at the time. Since researchers believed it had been copied from an earlier version, this led to the belief that the Vikings may have landed in North America in 1000 AD and then returned to Europe, where they described the outline of the continent to map-makers. Adding to this supposition was that the American coastline had been labeled Vinlandia Insula.
Yet not everyone was convinced of the map’s authenticity. The endings of some Latin words were written incorrectly, the handwriting style looked modern, the outline of Greenland was too accurate for what was believed known about it at the time, and there was no information as to who owned the map between its creation in the 15th century and the 1950s.
Moreover, the original owner of the map had been convicted of stealing manuscripts.
Suspecting a forgery, the British Museum declined to purchase the map, and it ended up in the hands of an American dealer for $3500. In 1965, it was sold for $300,000 to a Yale alumnus, who donated the map to the University. Although by then archaeologists had discovered the Viking settlements in Newfoundland, thereby proving that the Vikings had crossed the Atlantic far earlier than their European counterparts, much was made of the map, in both a book written about it and a front page article in the New York Times.
Since then, the map’s authenticity has been debated by archivists, scientists, and historians. To put the issue finally to rest, recently, researchers at Yale used state-of-the-art technology to date not only the parchment but also the ink. What they found was surprising.
Although the parchment does date to the mid 1400s, they found that the ink used was only available after 1920. Moreover, they also found instructions written in Latin on how to bind the map in a genuine, 15th-century manuscript, an obvious ploy, they say, to convince doubters that the map had been created in the 15th century. So yes, the researchers say, the map appeared to have been forged.
But who might have forged the map… and why?
The most likely culprit, the researchers said, was Yugoslavian Friar Luka Jelic (1863-1922).
In the late 1800s, nationalists were searching for a way to create pro-Aryan sentiment… and the myth of the Vikings as the ones to discover America played well into this narrative.
But Dr. Jelic committed an error in a paper he wrote when he described a bishop who was sent west to rediscover North America centuries after the Viking Leif Ericsson. In the paper, Jelic called him “Bishop of Greenland and the neighboring regions,” the exact wording found on the Yale map.
"The Vinland Map is a fake," said Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library. "There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest."