For decades the Vinland Map has been a mystery. It was added to the Yale collections in 1965 and since then the results of study about its age have been inconclusive. The map was held by some as an example of a 15th century mappa mundi, the Latin term for a Medieval map of the world. These early maps often show how much of the world was unexplored or unknown, which makes them records of history like no others. The Vinland Map likewise shows some areas correctly and others wildly different. Now, this convincing map has been proven once and for all to be a fake made in the 20th century. But, how did they figure it out?
A press release from Yale outlines a new study of the map that focused not only on the inks used to create it, but on the entire document.
Previous studies of the inks had found some evidence of modern formulations, but then again when carbon dating was used on the map in 2002 it was dated to around 1434. That date was 60 years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World. The same test was performed in 2018 and showed that parchment was created between 1400 to 1460.
And therein lies the problem- the map gave a glimpse into an alternate version of history, one that we now know isn’t true. This map only proves that well-done fakes can take decades to properly expose.
The inks were a point of contention cleared up in this new research. In this most recent study it was discovered through X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) that a particular modern titanium compound was present in the ink that was employed to create the outline of the map, one that wasn’t in use until 1920.
Another problem with the map was the inscription on the back which referred to a real historical volume. The inscription contained instructions for how to bind the authentic 15th century volume, Speculum Historiale, but written over them were instructions for binding the map into the book. The rub comes that the overwritten directions were done in modern ink. It is likely that the calfskin parchment paper for the map was taken from a 15th century copy of this very book.
The curator of the Yale Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Raymond Clemens, said that, “The Vinland Map is a fake. There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”
Rather than being something inconclusive, the steps taken to make it appear that the map was made during the same period as the Speculum Historiale or that the map was even once a part of the book, show that it is an intentional fake designed to mislead.
The work was able to be done in comparison to an actual Medieval copy of the Speculum Historiale, which aided in noticing differences and similarities to the parchment and the ink. They also used a 12th century copy of Hystoria Tartorum to further help in their study of the Vinland Map.