The Vinland Map: A Most Non-European Artifact
The Vinland Map carries with it the air of mystery and, some would say, the stench of deception. In the vaults of Yale University, and insured for $25 Million, it is either a colossal fraud or an artifact of unparalleled value. The map appeared on the scene in 1957 when a couple of shady characters tried to sell it to the British Museum. Experts determined that the ink used was not typical iron gall ink, the map was declared a fake, and the museum declined the offer.
If authentic, the map is considered priceless, as it would be the first map that has unique information about North America . The major problem associated with the map is that there is no acknowledgement – or maybe, no knowledge - that the Vinland associated with the map was a real place, with a functioning society, on Newfoundland Island.
Aerial panoramic view of L’Anse aux Meadows, an archaeological site located on northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland. Evidence of a Norse presence was discovered there in the 1960s, the only one of its kind in North America. ( edb3_16 / Adobe Stock)
Defying Convention: Seeing the Vinland Map from a New Angle
Nobody seems to know the origin of the Vinland Map, except there is near unanimity that it was made in Germany. The argument presented in this article defies the conventional paradigm that the Vinland Map is a European artifact, arguing that the Vinland Map is the genuine article and that it was not made in Europe at all, but created in Vinland around 1420.
As will be shown, the Vinland Map is not a European artifact primarily because of the following three factors. First of all, the parchment on which the map is drawn is crude, so crude that it would be an embarrassment to European parchment makers of the 1400s. Let’s not forget that European parchment was an enterprise characterized by high skill and impeccable products. Secondly, virtually all of Europe used iron gall ink with a vegetable-based (gum) binder. In contrast, when preparing the Vinland map a soot-based ink was utilized that had an animal-based glue binder. Finally, the Vinland Map has an inscription that tells where it was manufactured, namely in Vinland.
inland Map on display at Mystic Seaport, May 2018. ( CC BY-SA 4.0 )
There are several controversial issues related to the Vinland map. The first is whether a country called Vinland existed as of 1420, the year that the map was drawn. Recent research on Newfoundland island indicates that not only did Vinland exist, but that the physical remains are still visible. Moreover, descendants of that Vinland are still very much with us. Not only did Vinland the city exist, but a structure that is being tentatively called Vinland Cathedral, a basilica-type stone structure, is still intact in the wilderness of Newfoundland Island.
As has been established, the Chinese arrived on Newfoundland Island around early autumn, 1417. Along with the Norse, whom the Chinese rescued from Greenland in 1418, a multi-religious medieval civilization that included elements of both cultures was founded. The Norse called it Vinland. There are clear references in various histories to indicate that the Vatican not only knew about it, but was also receiving tributes from Vinland from as early as the 1400s.
Model of Viking settlement at the L’Anse aux Meadows museum in Newfoundland. (Torbenbrinker / CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Analysis of the Vinland Map
Experts have established that a communications channel existed between Vinland and Rome. For this to occur, a map would have been needed to indicate to the officials at Rome the approximate location of the new Vinland spiritual vineyard (Vinland was known for its wild grapes which led to its name which translates as “land of wine”). A rough map would show Rome the approximate position and major characteristics of the new land of the Norse. The crude vellum of the map indicates a simple matter of expediency. Someone needed to make a map that was never meant to be a cartographic masterpiece, a map simply to show where Vinland was, and a piece of parchment not yet fully prepared would be quite adequate for the task.
The fact that the Vinland itself (a.k.a. Newfoundland Island) is drawn in such an unusual configuration simply reflects the level of understanding of the religious about the piece of geography on which they found themselves. They drew the world as they understood it at the time. They understood Europe fairly well, Greenland they comprehended exceptionally well, and the island on which they now found themselves they knew hardly at all. They simply didn't know the dimensions nor the shape of the island; they had not been on Islandia Vinlandia (Vinland Island) long enough, barely two years in fact. One of the rivers is clearly the Exploits River, because it leads to a large lake known today as Red Indian Lake.
This lack of knowledge simply means that the map was drawn soon after the Greenlanders arrived on Newfoundland Island and before they knew a great deal about the new land where they were now living. Some of them were probably still trying to separate the elements of the old Norse myth of Vinland the Good from the reality of the environment in which they found themselves. They may have utilized an existing map to draw the Europe portion. Regrettably, we do not have the documentation that accompanied the map. It was likely left in the Vatican archives when the so-called Vinland Map was stolen.
Refuting the Naysayers: Finding Truth in the Vinland Map
There are several other issues that seems to disturb the equanimity of the experts. One of these is the perceived inconsistency in some of the letters of the Latin script on the map. Several experts claim that the utilization of certain vowels, such as the old Latin character ‘æ’ rather than ‘e’, is indicative of the writer being Italian.
Among the priests, monks and nuns at Vinland, there were, undoubtedly, people from most countries of Europe. People got around, even then, and the city of Bremen, the “Rome of the North,” regularly supplied priests and other religious to the far north west missions. Kirsten A. Seaver determined that the lettering on the map was made by a German hand. This deduction about a “German hand” may be close to correct and an astute observation, but that particular German hand was not writing in Germany, but in Vinland.
Some experts dispute the authenticity of the Vinland Map because it shows Greenland as an Island. However, the general understanding of the time, at least in Greenland, was that Greenland was an island and had been proven so by some Norse voyagers who managed to circumnavigate the island during a warming period. Moreover, recent research indicates that Greenland was sufficiently warm for the Norse to grow Barley around that earlier time. On the Vinland Map, Greenland is drawn almost perfectly accurate, another indicator that the people who drew the Vinland Map were the Greenland Norse, who were new to Vinland.
Leiv Erikson discovering America. ( Public domain )
Finding Meaning in the Vinland Map Inscription
Morrison notes that the script on the Vinland Map “suggests that there had been somewhere on the North American seaboard a Christian community to which the bishop [Eric Gnupson] felt he should minister, and, hence, he made a voyage to Vinland and back.” The script says:
“Eric Bishop of Greenland and adjacent regions and papal legate, arrived on this truly spacious and opulent land, in the last year of our most blessed Pope Paschal, remained there a long time both summer and winter and afterwards returned northeasterly toward Greenland and proceeded thence in humble obedience to superior will .” (Morrison, 1971)
That is, indeed, a strange inscription if the Vinland Map was prepared in Europe, the inherent contradiction of which the esteemed experts do not bother to try to explain. The inscription, apparently, says, “... arrived on this truly spacious and opulent land.” If “this” is an accurate translation, then one might conclude that the map was made at the location that the map purports to show, wherever that is. In any case it would be difficult to confuse the Latin words huius (this) with est (that). Besides, who except a priest from the Greenland Norse religious community, now having migrated with his flock to Vinland, could have had that information?
The voyages of the Norse peoples to Vinland were recorded in oral tradition. These were finally written down centuries later, in the Saga of Eric the Red (seen in the image above) and the Saga of the Greenlanders. ( Public domain )
Did Chinese Explorers Reach Newfoundland?
As has been detailed, a Chinese fleet on a mapping expedition, arrived at Newfoundland Island in 1417. The island was at that time empty of people. The fleet continued north, mapped Hudson Bay, and proceeded south along the western coast of Greenland. Finding the Greenland Norse on the verge of starvation, the Chinese rescued them all and took them to Newfoundland Island, the mythical Vinland the Good of the Greenland Norse people. The Norse, all of whom were Christians, delighted to find themselves in the land of milk and honey, began to send tributes of thankfulness to God, personified in the guise of the Holy See.
Many experts, consistent with ignorance of the existence of Vinland circa 1418, assume that the ink is the typical iron gall ink that was utilized in medieval Europe. However, Skelton's scientific colleagues at the British Museum made a short preliminary examination in 1967 and found that “despite its appearance to the naked eye, the ink was certainly not conventional iron-gall ink… and indeed was unlike any recipe they had ever seen.” They spent several months after the initial testing trying to find similar inks as far afield as Iceland.
Indeed, if the map were drawn on Vinland, modern-day Newfoundland Island, as herein proposed, the ink could not be of iron gall composition because there were no oak trees on Newfoundland Island at the time, the “gall” of the typical medieval European iron gall ink coming from oak galls. Assuming that the Chinese of Vinland, experts from ancient times in the preparation of ink, had a hand in the ink utilized in the preparation of the map, that ink would have been prepared from the soot of pine tree roots and glue from animal sources.
Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, Canada. ( CC BY 2.0 )
The Answers Lie in the Detail
Interestingly, some scientists identified the ink's binder as gelatin, probably made from animal skin. This would be consistent with the ink being made in China or being manufactured in Vinland under the supervision of the Chinese immigrants. Besides, iron gall ink as typically formulated in medieval Europe had a gum binder, not a gelatin binder which was typical of Chinese ink at the time.
The gall in all of this, to use the pun, is that the element anatase has been found in identifiable concentrations in the ink of the map. According to the scientists, the anatase particles are unique, having been synthesized only in 1917, and thus concluding it “impossible to have been prepared in 1440, 300 years before titanium was discovered and, … manufactured only with great effort and expense.” The anatase particles were not just sticking to the surface but were found to be a constituent aspect of the ink itself. Other researchers determined that the black pigment in the ink consisted essentially of soot-type carbon. They declared that the presence of a yellow line containing anatase, closely associated with a stable carbon ink, indicates that the Vinland Map is a modern forgery. The suggestion that the anatase is environmental pollution has been rejected.
Let's examine the assumptions. The first is that the map is determined to be a forgery because the ink is different from that which was expected. If someone were to construct a forgery, one would think that he or she would attempt to ensure that the ink be as close to the kind utilized during the era the map was purportedly created. If the ink is different, and easily determined to be so, surely it is not a forgery but a map that was created elsewhere, where the standard ink was different.
Looking for Answers Beyond Europe
However, the prevailing paradigm was – and still is - that the map simply had to be of European origin. Nobody, until now, has suggested that if the map is so different to those being made in Europe, down to the inferior parchment, then it must have been created elsewhere.
According to some investigators, because titanium was not recognized or identified by Western science until later, then it could not be utilized in any form, anywhere, before that time. That is patent nonsense. Regardless whether it was identified or recognized as such, titanium or its oxidized form TiO2 (anatase), could have been utilized for thousands of years (and likely was, given the Chinese record of natural medicines) simply because it was a constituent element in various natural products. The Chinese utilized a number of natural products having antibacterial, anti-microbial, and antiviral characteristics even if they were not able to synthesize the active ingredients.
Much is made about the 0.3 micrometer crystalized form of anatase that was synthesized around 1917 and appears to be in the ink of the map. It needs to be noted that plants take up various elements from the soil in elemental or, maybe rarely, molecular form. The crystallization process, and the resultant crystalline size and form, would depend on numerous unique characteristics of plants. Moreover, titanium is found in almost all living things, as well as bodies of water, rocks, and soils. For example, plants generally contain about 1 part per million (ppm) of titanium, food plants have about 2 ppm, and horsetail and nettle contain up to 80 ppm.
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It is to be noted that titanium will oxidize immediately upon exposure to air. Whatever might have been in the Chinese inksticks, this article proposes that they contained titanium, would naturally default to anatase after some period of time after the ink was committed to the parchment. The Chinese may have added titanium or anatase (titania) to the ink base via extracts from plants known to have the needed antibacterial properties. The cost or difficulty of preparing modern anatase, factors that have been touted as somehow significant to the issue, have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the science of the issue at hand.
But, there is still an elephantine question that remains unanswered. If someone wanted to perpetuate a fraud, why go through the trouble of creating a completely new ink, of which no more than a gram or so would be utilized? If someone wanted to commit a fraud, wouldn’t they have been careful to use an ink that was typical of medieval European inks or, at least, an ink that had an iron gall base, which, by the way, are readily available in Europe. To create this particular soot-based ink, one would have had to make pine-root charcoal, and then boil down cow skin and hoofs in order to make the glue as a binding agent. The suggestion stretches one's credulity to the breaking point! Because the ink is clearly not European in constitution, one can suspect that neither is it European in origin. The fact that the ink is typically Chinese, and not at all European, despite the unresolved anatase issue, provides an even stronger argument that the map was created in Vinland.
The Vinland Map , subject of much controversy, and the Achilles heel for many fragile academic egos, is without a doubt an enigma. However, virtually nothing about this map is suggestive of European origin. All of the contextual information, much of it still surprisingly unknown to contemporary scholars, points steadfastly to a North American origin and, specifically, an origin in an ancient Nation of Vinland (circa 1418 – 1700).
Top image: Whether the Vinland Map is a colossal fraud or an incredibly valuable artifact is still unclear. Said to be a 15 th century map, it is the first known map of the North American coastline. Source: Public domain
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Various authors, Historic Sites Association of Newfoundland & Labrador
Morrison, Samuel Eliot (1971) . The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages. AD 500 – 1600. New York: Oxford University Press.(p. 58)
PAC North America. Iron Gall Ink. https://www.ifla.org/node/93098#:~:text=Iron-gall%20ink%20was%20made%20with%20four%20basic%20ingredients%3A,a%20coloured%20solution%20with%20a%20very%20acidic%20pH. Retrieved 2020-09-03.
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Full list of references available upon request.