Vinland or Bust

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.


I take comfort in facts; irrefutable, set in stone, proven beyond a shadow of doubt,snippets of information used to define our world. The Oxford Dictionary defines fact as “a thing that is known or proved to be true”,  so far so good, right? Not so fast – fact missed the memo on truth.

I know for a fact we can’t pin point the exact age of our universe. Science says 13.8 billion years, give or take a millennium or two. We have no way of ever assigning “fact” to age, we can however say for a fact, the universe is billions of years old, science has proven this to be true. According to fundamentalist Christians the world is 6427 years old. The link below gives a timeline of their reasoning – for those requiring “proof”, a search on yahoo resulted in “best answer” rating for a response to the question “how old is the earth according to the bible?” – “the Bible doesn’t specify how old earth is but the lunar landing proved only 6000 years of dust had collected on the moon”. Yikes; that’s one hell of a fact.

How about the “fact” Christopher Columbus discovered America – he never set foot on the continent, his 1492 landing was in the Caribbean – I suppose “close enough” makes for good historical “fact”. Leif Erickson found Newfoundland long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue – that’s a fact. Columbus Day based on historical fiction; truth bent so long as to become “fact”.

We need to take a long hard look at what we consider fact. Considering the source, burden of proof and context go a long way towards definitive truth. It isn’t good enough to say “I heard it on TV” or “the Bible says…” We need to understand that history , more precisely “historical accounts”, are often nothing more than one side of the story. We need to stop and ponder the difference between belief and fact. One year has 365 days, 1+1=2; facts beyond a shadow of a doubt – foundations on which we build our view of the world.

Using “fact” in the context of biblical or historical accounts, takes fact from the realm of truth, to that of speculation. History is not without bias; historical accounts often written from verbal folklore, or as a one sided “white washing” of the facts.  Alexander Graham Bell is credited with inventing the telephone – dead wrong, it was Antonio Meucci, a penniless Italian immigrant who couldn’t afford to patent his invention.Biblical “fact” based on a book neither proven or known to be true. We can say for a fact the bible claims Jesus performed 37 miracles, we can’t claim they are proven or true. “Facts” are solidified only when proven to be true.,blogs,forums/who-invented-the-telephone.htm

Statistics aren’t “fact”; statistics are nothing more than a snap shot of one tiny demographic. Statistical “fact” based on responses from a few thousand hand picked respondents.  Editorial news stories aren’t fact, simply the opinion of a network or newscaster. We’re bombarded with “facts” based on nothing more than opinion or public relations firms presenting one side of the story. Fact has little to do with proven truth – fact and truth parted ways some time ago.

I can say for a fact that NOAA scientists reported November 2013 to be the warmest November since records began in 1880. November was also the 37th consecutive year, and 345th consecutive month where global averages of ocean and surface temperatures increased. Compelling facts but not irrefutable proof of global warming according to websites like thewatchers. Fact is open to interpretation – a nasty backlash since parting with truth.

We all need to ponder the importance of getting our facts straight. Basing our statements of fact on the Bible, history textbooks, worse still, opinionated media or websites, makes us look silly. Bible stories or Scientology beliefs that humans are inhabited by the souls of an alien race from planet Xenu – bear no resemblance to fact; the only true fact being many people believe these stories. Teaching for a fact that Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization, ignoring Gobekli Tepe, Varna, Puma Punku simply because we lack reasonable explanation, doesn’t change the fact these places blow our mainstream historical timeline out of the water.

We owe it to ourselves; not only remind ourselves of “facts” true meaning, but to expand our children’s minds with unbiased truth – science might not be able to explain, it doesn’t negate scientific truth. Ponder a world if we based our lives on factual truth rather than biblical references, historical hearsay, media opinion or statistical slants. Stop and think how different it would be if our lives were governed by fact based on truth instead of opinion. How simple life would be if a fact was a fact – so deal with it. A world where believe in your God ,or not , was irrelevant when educating our children. A place where “this is what we can back up with archaeological evidence”  or “this confounding truth defies explanation, yet is no less real”. A world where kids grew up with all the “facts”, were allowed to imagine and wonder, form their own ideas and taught to recognize the difference between fact and hogwash.

Fact needs to high tail it back to truth; our world needs to focus on what is proven to be true rather than how we believe, or would like to think the universe is ordered.