A Danish expert said on Friday that a 15th century Vinland Map, the first known map depicting part of America prior to Christopher Columbus’ arrival on the continent, is almost certainly authentic.
The map has been surrounded by controversy since its discovery in 1950, with many scholars suspecting it was merely part of a hoax intended to prove that Vikings were the first Europeans to land in North America (a claim confirmed by an archaeological find in 1960).
Doubts about the map remained even after carbon dating was established as a credible way of determining the age of an object.
“All the tests that we have done over the past five years — on the materials and other aspects — do not show any signs of forgery,” said Rene Larsen, rector of the School of Conservation under the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, during an interview with Reuters.
The map shows both Greenland and a western Atlantic island “Vinilanda Insula,” the Vinland of the Icelandic sagas, now linked by scholars to Newfoundland, Canada, where Norsemen under Leif Eriksson settled around AD 1000.
Larsen said his team studied the ink, writing, wormholes and parchment of the map, which is kept at Yale University. They found that wormholes caused by wood beetles were consistent with those in the books in which the map was bound, he said.
Allegations that the ink was too recent because it contained a substance known as anatase titanium dioxide could be disproved because other medieval maps have been found with the same substance, which is likely derived from sand used to dry wet ink.
American scholars have carbon dated the map to about 1440, about 50 years prior to Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492. Experts believe the map was created for a 1440 church council at Basel, Switzerland.
The Vinland Map is not a “Viking map”, and does not change the historical understanding of who first sailed to North America. However, if authentic, it confirms the New World was known not only to Norseman but also to other Europeans at least 50 years prior to Columbus’s arrival.
An American purchased the map from a Swiss dealer after the British Museum turned it down in 1957. Paul Mellon, a wealthy Yale alumni, later bought the map for the University, who published it in 1965 amid much fanfare.
The lack of proof of the map’s origin has inspired a great deal of controversy and intrigue. Indeed, details of the map’s whereabouts and how it came into the possession of the Swiss dealer after WWII remain a mystery.
Larsen presented his team’s findings at an international cartographers’ conference in Copenhagen, Denmark on Friday.
Image Courtesy Yale University