New Doubts Over Authenticity of Vinland Map
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FRESH DOUBT OVER AMERICA MAP
Tuesday, 30 July, 2002
More doubt has been cast over a supposedly medieval map of America drawn up
prior to the voyage of Christopher Columbus.
Many scientists believe the so-called Vinland Map, owned by Yale University
and valued at $20m, is in fact a 20th Century fake.
Controversy has raged over the claim for the past 35 years.
And this week, experts from University College, London, UK, said that fresh
analysis of the ink on the map added weight to this allegation.
Interestingly, their study was published at the same time as the details
were released of a radiocarbon dating study of the parchment itself.
This shows that parchment at least is likely to be from the 15th Century,
even if the actual map was drawn on much later.
The Vinland Map appears to show - to a high level of accuracy - not only the
main countries of western, northern and Mediterranean Europe, but also
Greenland and Iceland.
But what really caused a stir when the map was unveiled in 1965 was the
inclusion of "Vinland", a small area to the west of Greenland perhaps
depicting a section of the east coast of Canada or the US.
If the map were genuine, it would pre-date the feted voyage of Christopher
Columbus by some years - and would possibly have relied instead on the
experiences of Viking explorers who may well have reached North America in
the 10th or 11th Centuries.
This would make the Vinland Map the earliest cartographic representation of
But is it real?
The University College London study, led by Professor Robin Clark, and
published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, used a technique involving
laser light to examine the lines drawn on to the parchment.
The light is scattered in different wavelengths dependent on the chemical
composition of the ink, so the compounds involved can be identified.
The Vinland Map is curious in that there is a yellowish line directly
underneath a black line on top.
Professor Clark's study found traces of a chemical called anatase - a form
of titanium dioxide - in the yellow lines at several points on the map.
This pigment was not synthesized as part of inks until at least the 1920s -
strongly suggesting that the map is a modern fake.
The London team found no anatase anywhere else on the map, pointing to it
being a constituent of the yellow line rather than a product of later
The reason for the presence of the yellow line is key to the authenticity of
Medieval iron-based inks tend to erode over time, leaving a yellow or brown
The London team also proved that the black inks used on the map were not
Some have speculated that a forger may have included the yellow line to make
it look like this kind of deterioration was occurring.
Professor Clark told BBC News Online that while he can only guess at the
precise provenance of the map, his work means it is highly unlikely to be
prior to the 1920s.
He said: "I can't see how it could have been done in the 15th Century.
"I don't know how it was made, but I can't think of any other explanation."
Some scientists suggest that the titanium dioxide could be the product of
long-term deterioration of ancient inks, but Professor Clark remains
"We have not seen this titanium dioxide on any other ancient manuscripts,
and we have used this microscopy to look at thousands.
"But if it does prove to be a forgery, it's a very good one."
The radiocarbon dating study, published in the journal Radiocarbon,
pinpoints the manufacture of the parchment on which the map is drawn to
approximately AD 1434.
This is 60 years before the Columbus expedition.
It means that the parchment could conceivably have been produced to coincide
with the Catholic Council of Basel, convened a half-century before the
Dr Garman Harbottle, who carried out the study, said: "While the date result
itself cannot prove that the map is authentic, it is an important piece of
new evidence that must be considered by those who argue that the map is a
forgery and without cartographic merit."
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