Documentary Evidence: Mapping-content

THE CONTENT OF THE MAP

The Vinland Map is a map of the world. On it, there is a great deal of writing - legends, titles, captions - much more writing than on most maps. Could the mapmaker have been trying to tell us something?

Vinland Map Thumb
The Vinland Map

Now consider the Map and answer these questions. Your answers will depend on your reasoning and not on your knowledge of maps.

Which feature on the VM has been given the longest legend?

  • Is it Vinland? Is the mapmaker highlighting Vinland?

What feature on the VM has never been seen on any other map?

  • It is Vinland. Vinland appears on the VM and on no other map.

Vinland Color
Detail from the Vinland Map showing Vinland and its legend

Does the mapping of Vinland seem plausible?

  • Vinland has a very odd shape (Fig. 2). Two inlets on the East Coast extend to the West Coast. Nothing like it is known. It is a geological freak. Vinland is also mapped in great detail, implying that it has been surveyed in great detail. In comparison with Greenland, Vinland seems to be an enormous continent, measuring 3000 miles long and 500 miles wide. Vinland appears as an enormous continent, of freakish shape and mapped in great detail. Vinland only appears on the VM.

Maps are drawn with a purpose in mind. What was the purpose of the Vinland Map?

  • Was its purpose to feature Vinland? What purpose would be served by featuring Vinland?

Viking Voyage
Viking routes from Greenland to North America

Mapmakers do not copy terrain. Each map tells a story: each has an individual character - emphasizing certain elements and de-emphasizing others. "The map is not the territory". What is the story told in the VM?

A VM, drawn in 1440, must have relied on knowledge of the Northern Atlantic, acquired by the Vikings around AD 1000. By that time, the Vikings had already identified lands in North America - Helluland (stone land), Markland (forest land), and Vinland (vine land). The Vikings reached these lands from the Greenland settlements, sailing up the west coast of Greenland, across the Davis Strait (at its narrowest point) and down the east coast of Baffin Island, Labrador and Newfoundland. (This route avoided the perils of the open ocean.) The Vikings sailed principally to Markland, to procure lumber for the Greenland Settlements. Any Viking Map would obviously include all of these features. The Vikings depended on them for their existence.

Map North
“Map of the North”, attributed to Sigurd Stefansson and drawn ca. 1590

Actually, Vikings did not make maps. What geographical information they gathered, they handed down orally. Between 1100 and 1200, this "oral" information was written down in the various Viking Sagas. Around 1600, the geographical information in the Sagas was actually used to create a map. Not surprisingly, the map shows Vinland, Markland and all the other features. Compare this "Viking map" with the Vinland Map?

Does the VM look like a "Viking map"?

Can the VM have been based on Viking surveys? If not, on what can it have been based?

List the issues discussed here. Assign them, as follows, with your reasoning:

  • Which issues, if any, require the VM to be a fake?
  • Which issues, if any, suggest that the VM could be a fake?