Friday, January 5, 2007

Green no more: For half a century, there has been controversy swirling around a map that purports to be a 14th-century Viking map depicting settlements in the New World. The question is, of course, could they have known what the map shows — that, for instance, Greenland is an island? Doesn’t sound likely. From Strange Maps:

In 1960, archeological excavations at L’Anse-aux-Meadows on Newfoundland turn up the remains of a Viking camp. For the first time, scientists establish that Vikings actually did cross the Atlantic. Interest in all things Vinland soars. Yale University buys the map in 1965, has it insured for $25 million and publishes it in that same year. That was the starting point for two debates that rage to this day: Where is Vinland? And: Is the map real?


While the map has been radiocarbon-dated to between 1423 and 1445, it appears to have been coated with an unknown substance in the 1950s. This could be an undocumented attempt at preservation, or it could be part of a forger’s attempt to draw a new map over an old one. It’s unclear whether this substance is over or under some of the ink on the page…

The ink itself has been chemically analysed, and dated to after 1923 due to the presence of anatase – a synthetic pigment in use only since the 1920s. Natural anatase has been demonstrated in various Mediaeval manuscripts, though.

As for the content of the map, a number of questions challenge the age of the document. Greenland is presented as an island – a fact not physically proven until the turn of the 20th century and unknown to the Vikings, who mostly thought it a peninsula descending from the north. Several passages in the text are equally anomalous.


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