- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Gangway: Two sets of academia are off in opposite directions agitated over a map, a 40-year-old feud and much high-tech equipment.
Dueling studies released this week both laud and shame the Vinland Map, an old rendition of the world that has been stuck between cartography and myth since it became public almost four decades ago.
Is it real or fake?
The map in question measures 11 inches by 16 inches and is drawn in black ink on thick parchment no mermaids, no sea monsters. But it includes a curiously Americalike land mass labeled "Vinlanda Insula," with a Latin inscription indicating that one Leif Ericson had discovered it 500 years before Columbus.
The cultural implications have inspired righteous indignation among historians, cartographers, scholars, map dealers and the ethnic groups involved over the years.
"The question is: Who was first, Columbus or Ericson?" asked Thomas F. Sander, president of the Washington Map Society, yesterday. "There are great camps of people for both sides, and we may never know the truth. If the cartographer had signed it, if we knew its chain of custody, that would help. But we don't."
The rare-book dealer who found the map folded in a 15th-century Italian book died before revealing its history. Philanthropist Paul Mellon bought the map and presented it to Yale University, which built a cottage industry of books, papers and symposiums around it.
It proved a veritable siren for opposing parties since Yale presented it to the world, along with a lavish book, in 1965.
This week is no exception.
The University of London has pronounced the Vinland Map a forgery after analyzing its ink with something called a remote laser Raman microscope. The ink, the researchers said, had been made after 1923. Their assertions were published this week in Analytical Chemistry, a journal of the American Chemical Society.
Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Arizona and Brookhaven National Laboratory beg to differ. After analyzing the parchment with carbon-dating techniques, they believe the Vinland Map is the real deal.
"We have determined the precise radiocarbon age of the map's parchment by accelerator mass spectrometry," the group wrote in the August issue of Radiocarbon, another scientific journal. "The one-sigma calibrated calendrical date range is AD 1434, plus or minus 11 years."
Both sides have come forth in the press this week to defend their findings, making it the seventh public skirmish over the Vinland Map since Yale heralded it as "exceeding in significance even Yale's Gutenberg Bible" early on.
The university has been drawn into vigorous dispute about its map now valued at about $20 million for years. The ink's authenticity, in fact, was first questioned in 1966. Scholars have X-rayed the map, even measuring its worm holes with calipers. Their fiercest attack was of the ethnic variety.
In "Columbus WAS First," a book published that same year, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Musmanno wrote that Yale had crafted a "publicity campaign seemingly quarterbacked by a team consisting of P.T. Barnum and Machiavelli."
Yale is staying out of this week's scholarly entanglements, only allowing to the Associated Press that "there is a lot of research in progress."
But such is the life of objects that question accepted history or beliefs. The lure of them can be disastrous, as Newsweek knows after devoting a cover story to Hitler's lost diaries in 1983. All 62 of them were fake.
"Scholars will continue their careful, well-worded discussions," the map society's Mr. Sander said. "The authenticity of Vinland Map remains a question mark. Nevertheless, it provides an ongoing story and proof that the last book about American history itself has yet to be written."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide