Documentary Evidence: Writing-handwriting

A sample of the handwriting on the VM


What can handwriting analysis tell us about the Vinland Map?

The first handwriting analysis of the VM was published in 1965:

Minute examination of every letter form in VM and enlargements made from its inscriptions reveal clearly that the hand is identical throughout with SH and TR.

In other words, the Vinland Map and its two companion volumes, SH and TR, were written by the same scribe. The three authors responsible for this opinion - experts from the British Museum and the Yale Library in ancient maps and manuscripts - had been hired by Yale on an 8-year secret assignment to authenticate the Vinland Map. They were not professional paleographers and the constraint of secrecy, imposed by Yale, denied them access to professional paleographers.

Their analysis, which was limited, corroborated nicely their other findings. Originally the VM, TR and SH had been bound together. The TR and SH were dated, by watermarks, to the 1440s. If the handwriting identified a common scribe for all three documents, the VM must be genuine. We see what we expect to see. If one believes the VM to be genuine, it would make sense to identify a common scribe.

Two years later, it was determined that the TR and SH were written in iron gall ink but that the VM was not. Would the same scribe be likely to switch inks?

After the VM was launched in 1965, scholars were able to study the documents freely. The analyses of these expert paleographers agreed. One of them, Skeat (British Museum), wrote in 1967 that

the writing on the Map has no resemblance to the writing of either the TR or the SH... The TR and the SH are in different, though very similar hands... An objective test is provided by the capital letter Q which is formed in quite different ways in the two MSS.

Once again, the non-expert viewer is at a disadvantage. Whom to believe? One turns to the experts. And it does raise significant procedural questions:

  • What objective criteria are available to analyze handwriting?
  • Is the analysis of handwriting subjective?
  • Can handwriting analysis determine the actual date of the Vinland Map?