Did A Fake Map Get It Right?

R. Scott Walker |
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“In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

Do you remember the above saying? It is a rhyme to help us remember when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. The words are actually the beginning of a larger poem; however, most of us only know the first two lines.

I’m no poet, so go easy on me. Knowing what I know, I might add the following words:

“Sorry, Chris, ‘tis also true, Vikings sailed the ocean, too.”

Archeological evidence has revealed that the Vikings settled in North America. The first discovery of a settlement was made in Newfoundland in 1960. That it was a Viking settlement was made public in 1965 and more excavation confirmed it in 1968. Evidence suggests that the settlement was abandoned around 1000 A.D., almost 500 years before Columbus discovered the New World.

As we approach Columbus Day on Monday, October 12, 2020, I do not mean to diminish Christopher Columbus’ discovery. The fact that Vikings landed and settled the New World several centuries before Columbus’ voyage does not detract from the Italian explorer’s accomplishments and contribution to history. While the Vikings’ endeavors were lost to antiquity, Columbus’ discovery would forever change the future of human civilization.

Prior to the archaeological discoveries of the 1960s, the only thing that historians had to go on believing that Vikings beat Columbus to the New World was the infamous Vinland Map. The Vinland Map was a map supposedly created in the 1440s that depicted the Viking voyages to Vinland and Greenland. The map would have been created centuries after the Vikings had faded from history; thus, meaning that it was derived from source information yet to be discovered. If the map was drafted in the 1440s, it would still have predated Columbus’ voyage by 50 years.

What makes the Vinland Map interesting is that it surfaced in the mid-20th Century and its existence and authenticity were first revealed to the world just prior to the archaeological announcement in Newfoundland. A shady Italian antiquities dealer presented it to the British Museum in 1957. The British Museum refused to look at the map. It was later purchased by a Yale University alumnus in 1959, who gave it to Yale to determine its authenticity. Three scholars studied the map for several years. After deciding the Vinland Map was the genuine article, they published their discovery and announced the existence of the map to the public the day before Columbus Day 1965.

As you can imagine, the announcement of the Vinland Map rocked the world, much to the chagrin of Italian Americans. It changed everything people knew about the discovery of the New World. For the naysayers, the archaeological discoveries in Newfoundland vindicated the claims made by scholars that the map was real.

The Vinland Map proved that Vikings settled the New World over 500 years before Columbus at a time when there was no evidence to support the claim made by the map.

The irony is that the Vinland Map may be fake. At the time of the map was announced to the world in 1965, there were already skeptics. In 1973, another analysis of the map was performed, and traces of substances were discovered that did not exist before the 20th Century. In 1974, Yale declared the map a forgery, but it didn’t stop there. Over the years, the authenticity of the map has gone back and forth too many times to count. In 2002, radio-carbon dating and some other experiments suggested the map material was from the 1400s. In 2018, Yale announced it was once again putting the map to the test using the most up-to-date technology.

Is the Vinland Map a hoax? Perhaps, but it would be the greatest fluke in history. A fake map that presented a yet unproven historical claim, only to be proven correct by later archaeological discovery.

Did a fake map get it right?

Just for the record, Leif Eriksson day is Friday, October 9, 2020.


For more information on the Vinland Map and its history, please visit the following sites:

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