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The Vinland Map
Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
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The History of the Vinland Map

The Vinland Map’s origin is uncertain, first appearing in 1957 with Enzo Ferrajoli de Ry, who later faced charges for stealing manuscripts. The British Museum declined it, suspecting forgery. Ferrajoli sold it to Laurence Witten, who brought it to Yale. Another alumnus bought it for $300,000, contingent on proving authenticity. Yale was cautious due to its unclear history, but experts noted that post-WWII material movement made provenance difficult.
Witten discovered the map bound to the Hystoria tartarorum, sharing handwriting and wormhole patterns with another Yale-acquired document, leading Yale researchers to deem it authentic in “The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation,” although not all agreed.
Doubt surrounding the authenticity of the Vinland Map led to a conference by the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of American Studies in 1966. Issues of secrecy, questionable provenance, and textual discrepancies were discussed.
Yale University sought confirmation of authenticity in 1972 from McCrone Associates, whose analysis revealed double-inking and synthetic compounds inconsistent with a 15th-century origin. Despite this, debate persisted, with some disputing the significance of the findings. Witten’s admission of purchasing the map without verifying its provenance further fueled skepticism, yet discussion continued, with some suggesting alternative explanations for the scientific findings.
The belief in the Vinland Map’s authenticity persisted partly due to the discovery in 1961 of a Norse encampment in L’Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland, providing evidence of Viking presence in the Americas. This discovery may have influenced acceptance of the map. The timing of the map’s announcement by Yale University was influenced by the threat of the settlement’s discovery making the map unnecessary as evidence for Norse exploration of America. To preempt potential objections from the discoverers of the settlement, a gala was held in Norway to present corroborative information and mitigate skepticism. Helge Ingstad, one of the discoverers, acknowledged the map’s interest but reserved judgment until he had reviewed the background material.
In 2021, Yale University revisited the mystery surrounding the Vinland Map, examining it alongside authentic manuscripts to which it was attached. Utilizing advanced technology, researchers from the university’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage discovered that titanium, a key component found in the map, was notably absent from maps and texts of similar age. Furthermore, the titanium found in the Vinland Map closely resembled a pigment mass-produced in Norway in 1923, contradicting previous hypotheses and suggesting a new timeframe for the map’s creation.
Additional evidence supporting a later date for the map’s creation was found by researcher John Paul Floyd, who uncovered a reference from 1892 to the related manuscripts, which did not mention a map. This reference also confirmed the manuscripts’ previous location in Zaragoza, where Enzo Ferrajoli had been convicted of book theft.
Moreover, the Yale study revealed that a Latin inscription on the back of the Vinland Map, intended to provide authenticity, was determined to be a forgery, added to enhance the map’s credibility.
Raymond Clemens, curator of early books at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, declared the Vinland Map to be a forgery. He highlighted the altered inscription as evidence, suggesting it was an attempt to deceive regarding the map’s creation. While acknowledging the uncertainty of the perpetrator, Clemens emphasized the need to move forward from the controversy surrounding the map, urging a focus on other historical artifacts that can provide valuable insights into medieval exploration and travel.
The Vinland Map, now confirmed as a forgery, presents an enduring mystery regarding its creator and motives. Speculation ranges from the possibility of it being an elaborate prank aimed at embarrassing Nazi treasure hunters to theories suggesting it was fabricated in the 1920s to shift credit for the discovery of North America from Columbus to the Vikings, potentially fueled by prevalent anti-Italian sentiment during that era. However, the true identity of the forger and their motivations remain unknown.