The Vinland Map

News of the possible discovery of the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus, and the controversy that is guaranteed to ensue, immediately brings to mind the on-going debate surrounding the so-called Vinland Map.

Vinland (Newfoundland), Markland (Labrador) and Helluland (Baffin Island) were the names given to the lands discovered by Eirik the Red as told in the Grælendinga Saga and Eirik’s Saga.

The map clearly shows a body of land labeled “Vinlandia Insula” or Island of Vinland. If its purported early-15th century date is correct, it would predate Columbus by over 50 years and be the earliest map showing the North American continent. The map was discovered bound in a medieval book called Historia Tartarorum in 1957. It was purchased by a Yale University benefactor and given to the university who then presented it to the world to great fanfare - which was followed immediately by doubt and controversy. Debate continues to this day.

The question of its authenticity will probably never be definitively answered. I have my doubts, but then I’m certainly no expert; still, while Greenland was known to Europeans (Greenland had its own bishopric as early as 1126) it was generally thought to be a penninsula connected to the rest of northern Europe (Jötunheim to the Norse.)

nb.: There is a huge, 2.5 meg, 3000 by 2100 pixel, image of the entire map maintained at the Brookhaven National Laboratory web site here.

» Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002 | Permanent Link