Despite school yard rhymes “in fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” or America’s Columbus Day holiday – it is generally accepted Christopher Columbus rode on the coat tails of much earlier European discovery of America. Discovery of a Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, proved Vikings found America almost 500 years before Columbus bumped into the Caribbean – never underestimate a good publicist.
Written references to “Vinland” date back to the 11th century; Adam of Breman’s “Description of the Northern Islands” describes it as an island discovered by many in an ocean where grape vines grow by themselves, producing the best wine. Vinland is synonymous with the Norse, and accepted as the name given to North America.
I rarely link to Wikepedia, in this case I’m making an exception – a fairly good history of Vinland folklore and historical accounts…
Truth be told, it’s the Vinland Map that got me pondering. In the early 1960’s Yale University paid a million dollars for a map – a map offering definitive proof the Vikings discovered America hundreds of years before Columbus. Yale purchased the map a few years prior to the Newfoundland bombshell. In 1966 the Smithsonian cast doubt on authenticity of the map; a 1974 test of ink on the map showed traces of titanium dioxide, an element that didn’t surface in ink until the 1920’s. In 2002, Yale surrendered a sliver of paper; carbon dating concluded 1430 or thereabouts stood, as Yale believed, to be the year its paper was made.
Backing up a little; Vinland Map has a tricky, more accurately “slippery” history. It was originally offered for sale as an “extra”, as in “unexpected discovery” inside the pages of a authentic and verified book called “The Tartar Relation” – dated to 1440, a book written by a Franciscan friar on the “manners and history” of the Mongols. Rather an odd place for a Viking map to land; fueling speculation it was a forgery, penned on paper taken from the verified book.
This link allows you to click on areas of the map for points of interest, speculation and debate – basically, you decide. My mind needn’t ponder long to arrive at the conclusion Columbus basked in credit he didn’t earn or deserve. An intrepid explorer – perhaps – discovered America? Oh hell no, not even close.
I can’t help but find it incredible how we quibble over minor details. If almost 50 years of “science” still draws debate; that’s one masterful forgery. Speculation by historian Kirsten Seaver that German priest Joseph Fischer forged the map in 1930’s Germany as a protest against the Nazis (she contends the map has Catholic symbolism; a protest against Nazi persecution of Catholics and a “take that Adolf” bitch slap for Germany likening itself to the Aryan Norse people – last laugh on you Hitler – Vikings were Catholic and discovered the known world) are still just a best guess.
The Vinland Map is a good mystery, in the end it doesn’t change a thing. We know the Vikings were in North America long before the Columbus show. Who honestly cares at this point if they set foot in Minnesota. Nobody is trying to take Columbus Day holiday away from you. Knock yourselves out public education system; who cares where Newfoundland is anyway – until a Norse settlement rises in New York state, Columbus discovered America when he bumped into the Caribbean and everything hinges on a questionable map.