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Subject: Vinland Map

Vinland Map

From: Ann B. N'Gadi <ngadia>
Date: Monday, July 29, 2002
    Scientists Determine Age of First New World Map; "Vinland Map"
    Parchment Predates Columbus' Arrival in North America

    For the first time, scientists have ascribed a date - 1434 A.D.,
    plus or minus 11 years - to the parchment of the controversial
    Vinland Map, possibly the first map of the North American
    continent. Collaborators from the Smithsonian Center for
    Materials Research and Education (SCMRE), Suitland, Md., the
    University of Arizona, Tucson, and the U.S. Department of
    Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y., used
    carbon-dating techniques to analyze the parchment on which the
    map is drawn.  Their findings, published in the August edition
    of the journal Radiocarbon, place the parchment of the map 60
    years ahead of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the West Indies,
    and provide compelling evidence that the map is authentic.

    "Many scholars have agreed that if the Vinland Map is authentic,
    it is the first cartographic representation of North America,
    and its date would be key in establishing the history of
    European knowledge of the lands bordering the western Atlantic
    Ocean," said Jacqueline S. Olin, assistant director for
    archaeometric research at SCMRE when the study began in 1995.

    Olin and co-authors Douglas Donahue, a physicist at the
    University of Arizona and Garman Harbottle, a chemist at
    Brookhaven National Laboratory, along with SCMRE paper
    conservator Dianne Van Der Reyden, sampled the bottom right edge
    of the parchment for analysis. The dating was carried out at the
    National Science Foundation-University of Arizona Accelerator
    Mass Spectrometer in Tucson.  The unusually high precision of
    the date was possible because the Vinland Map's date fell in a
    very favorable region of the carbon-14 dating calibration curve.

    The parchment analysis again indicates the map's connection with
    the Catholic Church's Council of Basel, convened between 1431
    and 1449, first posited by R.A. Skelton, T.E. Marston and G.D.
    Painter, the scholars who undertook a six-year investigation of
    the Vinland Map and accompanying "Tartar Relation," and made
    their argument for the map's authenticity in the book, The
    Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, published in 1965 by Yale
    University Press.  Paul A. Mellon had purchased the map and
    manuscript for $1 million in 1958, and requested the study after
    donating them to Yale.

    The map came to light in Europe in the mid-1950s without any
    record of previous ownership or provenance in any library or
    collection. It is now in the collection of Yale's Beinecke Rare
    Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven, Conn.  The name
    "Vinland" derives from text on the map that recounts Bjarni and
    Leif Eriksson discovering "a new land, extremely fertile and
    even having vines,--which island they named Vinland."  The
    "Island of Vinland" appears on the map in the northwest Atlantic
    Ocean.  Scholars postulate it may represent present-day
    Labrador, Newfoundland or Baffin Island. The map also shows
    Europe, Africa and Asia.

    Several previous studies challenging the map's authenticity
    focused on the chemical composition of the ink used to draw it,
    and pointed to the presence of anatase, which was not produced
    commercially until the 20th century.  But there are questions
    about how an ink containing anatase could have been formulated
    and used by a forger. More recently, the ink has been shown to
    contain carbon, which also has been presented as evidence of a
    forgery.  However, carbon can be present in a medieval ink.

    "Anatase may be a result of the chemical deterioration of the
    ink over the centuries, or may even have been present naturally
    in the ink used in medieval times," Olin said, adding,  "The
    elemental composition of the ink is consistent with a medieval
    iron gall ink, based on historical evidence regarding ink

    Present carbon-dating technology does not permit the analysis of
    samples as small as the actual ink lines on the map.

    Concluded Olin, "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."

    The article is available online at

    The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education
    advises and assists the Smithsonian and other museums in the
    study, preservation and conservation of artistic and historic
    objects.  Its staff conducts research in the areas of material
    technology, chemistry, art and cultural history, as well as in
    the development of treatment procedures.  The Center also offers
    educational programs about the properties and preservation of
    collections to museums and associated professionals around the

    Brookhaven National Laboratory and the University of Arizona are
    issuing concurrent releases.

    July 29, 2002
    Media only: Elizabeth Tait
    202-357-2627 ext. 129

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:9
                   Distributed: Monday, July 29, 2002
                        Message Id: cdl-16-9-002
Received on Monday, 29 July, 2002

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