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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Exploring the Legitimacy of the Vinland Map

    On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Garman Harbottle from Brookhaven National Laboratory presented ‘The Vinland Map: Maybe it’s Not Fake After All’ at the Wang Center.

    Harbottle explored the possibility that the Vinland Map, a map that surfaced in 1956, that has been considered to be a forgery by many scholars, may actually be real, according to extensive testing that he and his colleagues have completed. This lecture was part of the Provost Lecture Series that has had scholars from different fields of study speak at Stony Brook University.

    The Vinland map, a mysterious map that appeared in 1956 that was made by the Vikings.’ The map presents Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and Greenland, and calls into question the notion that Christopher Columbus was’ first person to the new world.

    When the map surfaced, its authenticity was widely debated, and it wasn’t until 1966 that a formal conference was set up at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., to discuss it. At the conference, some scholars rejected the map, although most reserved judgment and agreed that a formal evaluation was needed to prove its origin.

    Later, in 1974, Walter C. McCrone of Yale University published a report that claimed to prove the Vinland Map was a forgery, due to the presence of anatase (titanium dioxide) in the document’s ink, which was in a particular size and shape that was only produced after the 1920s.

    As a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Harbottle has used carbon dating, along with other types of analysis, to identify and date historical artifacts and documents from a range of time periods.’ Included in these artifacts was the Vinland Map.

    During Harbottle’s lecture, he explained some of the different testing he completed on the map and how his results differed from those who concluded it was a fake, his main adversary being McCrone.

    Harbottle explained that after further testing of the Vinland Map by Thomas Cahill from the University of California, using Particle Induced X-Ray Emission (PIXE), almost 5,000 to 10,000 times less titanium (part of the anatase originally discovered) was actually in the document’s ink. This, along with the discovery that anatase was found naturally throughout different parts of the world, started to convince scholars once again that the Vinland Map may not be a forgery after all.

    Harbottle used carbon dating to find the original date. He said that after extensive testing, he and his colleagues were able to date the Vinland map to 1434, plus or minus 11 years.

    Although Harbottle provided evidence in favor of the Vinland Map being authentic, he also mentioned some flaws in his discoveries.’ For example, the original cleaning of the map during unknown restoration processes were thought to have been done very poorly, leaving nitrocellulose residue on the paper, which could have skewed results. Harbottle also explained that in the current state of the Vinland map, it is nearly impossible to authenticate.

    ‘Scientific testing of the ink will always be inconclusive, since you have lost around 90% of the original ink,’ said Harbottle when asked where his final stance was on the authenticity.

    Although there was a large turnout for the lecture, with around 60 people in the room, there were very few students in attendance. The next lecture in the Provost Series will be on Thursday Oct. 26, at 4PM in Harriman Hall, room 137.

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