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Viking Map of Americas Shown to be a 20th Century Forgery

It seemed too good to be true. Acquired by Yale University and publicized to great fanfare in 1965, the Vinland Map—supposedly dated to mid-15th century Europe—showed part of the coast of North America, seemingly presenting medieval Scandinavians, not Christopher Columbus, as the true “discoverers” of the New World.

The idea wasn’t exactly new. Two short Icelandic sagas relate the story of Viking expeditions to North America, including the construction of short-lived settlements, attempts at trade and ill-fated battles with Indigenous peoples on the continent’s northeastern coast. Archaeological finds made on Newfoundland in the 1960s support these accounts. But this map suggested something more: namely, that knowledge of Western lands was reasonably common in Scandinavia and central Europe, with Vikings, rather than Columbus and his Iberian backers, acting as the harbingers of the colonial age. 

In the modern era, the European discovery of North America became a proxy for conflicts between American Protestants and Catholics, as well as northern Europeans who claimed the pagan Vikings as their ancestors and southern Europeans who touted links to Columbus and the monarchs of Spain. Feted on the front page of the New York Times, the map’s discovery appeared to solidify the idea of a pre-Columbian Norse arrival in the American mindset.

As it turns out, the map was indeed too good to be true. In 1966, just months after it was publicized, scholars pointed out inconsistencies with other medieval sources and raised questions about where the map had supposedly been for the past 500 years. In addition, a study conducted in the early 1970s strongly hinted at problems with the original dating of the map to medieval Europe, though outside researchers challenged that finding with concerns about the small sample of ink that was tested, as well as possible contamination. Debates over the map’s authenticity continued in the succeeding decades, prompting Yale and others to conduct a series of largely inconclusive tests.

Now, an interdisciplinary research project undertaken by archivists, conservators and conservation scientists has proven that the map is fake once and for all. Far removed from the 1440s, the analysis of metals in the map’s ink revealed that the document was actually forged as early as the 1920s. 

“There is no reasonable doubt here,” says Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, which houses the map, in a statement. “This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”

Read entire article at Smithsonian