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The Vinland Map video that might as well have been a hoax

"Have you ever had the experience of seeing a video by a YouTuber you respect, on a topic you know really well, and finding that it's full of mistakes and misunderstandings? Welcome to my nightmare."

That's how I began my video reacting to Paul Whitewick's video about the Vinland Map, released in December 2023. Initially, I had just left an angry comment on his video, under a message of congratulation from one of his proof-checkers. However, when I began work on a follow-up comment providing details of my objections, I found there were so many mistakes, on average about two per minute, that my response was in effect the script for a video of similar length. My next comment, therefore, was just an announcement that I was considering making such a video. Whitewick's response was "haha... ok, you're going to make a reaction video on a video that will get 20k views. Beautiful. Dude (because you will be a dude), you probably need to make a reaction video on the sources used as well, which include Yale University. Please do take the time to read our description. I look forward to the video."

So I cobbled together a video over the next couple of days. Whitewick saw it, and swiftly reported it to YouTube for copyright infringement, although the majority of my use of his material was literally playing the mistakes. YouTube insisted that it must be deleted by 28 December, so on Boxing Day I replaced it with a new video, slightly shorter than Whitewick's, telling the Vinland Map story as shown by the actual evidence. Meanwhile, the comment thread in which I had made my complaints disappeared from his video, as did some of the helpful comments I had made in response to questions people had raised- questions which need not have been asked if he had provided the right information in the video. Instead, he had put extra sections in the video description belittling the complaints, without meaningfully responding to them, or identifying the source.

A comment on my replacement video asked if the deleted original could be re-instated in some form so people could assess my specific complaints, and initially I had the idea of putting a transcript in the description of the Boxing Day version. Unfortunately, it was three times the maximum character-count for a YouTube description box. By the end of December, the Whitewick video had hit 150,000 views* (while the combined view total for all "official" Yale videos on the topic was about 5,300) so I decided to put in a little extra effort and it's become a rudimentary web page instead.

* A month after the Whitewick video was released, I checked the most popular Vinland Map videos on YouTube. Having by then reached 185,000 views, it was by far the most watched video solely dedicated to the Vinland Map, beaten only by a 2016 Library of Congress symposium celebrating the 500th birthday of the Carta Marina, the earliest map actually naming America, featuring a talk about the Vinland Map forgery. Ironically, like Whitewick, the 2016 speaker also ignored recent bombshell revelations about the Map, which I had discussed with her soon after they emerged in 2013. See my 2018 update video for more on that talk and the problems with her theory about the forger.

Below are my comments on nearly 30 specific statements or images in the Whitewick video. However I need first to observe that the problems stem from basic faults in the way the video was compiled. In particular, his list of sources includes only three which are under 20 years old: Wikipedia (from which he seems to have consciously distanced himself), a misleading Reddit thread about pre-1960s awareness of Vinland, and a publicity piece written to accompany a 2021 video presentation of research by Yale University, owners of the Map. Whitewick has not, apparently, watched that video, or any of the others put out by or in direct collaboration with Yale since 2018, when they presented some preliminary results in a symposium held at a nearby maritime museum. Nor does he seem to have read the book "A Sorry Saga" by John Paul Floyd, which was published just before the 2018 symposium and provided key evidence discussed there (also the basis of a talk by Floyd himself at Yale's own symposium in 2022).

Neither this web page nor my replacement video summarising the Vinland Map story presents evidence for my claims, but the sources are to be found in a very detailed video series I released back in 2015 (with updates in 2018) called "The Vinland Map: Hoaxes within hoaxes" (which were, in effect, "a reaction video on the sources used as well, which include Yale University").

THE COMPLAINTS (with timestamps)

Thumbnail "This Map Fooled EVERYONE"
is not true. The map was carefully kept away from almost everyone with truly relevant expertise from 1957 to 1965. Once such experts (including colleagues of the authors of the official book, at Yale and the British Museum) were allowed to examine the Map, many of them declared it to be a fake.
00:20 "had the power to change the history books"
Only history books written by rabid fans of Christopher Columbus. Vinland and other territories west of Greenland had been described in a history of Roman Catholic outreach to the Scandinavian peoples written by Adam of Bremen in the 11th century, based on information supplied to him by the King of Denmark. They were also repeatedly mentioned in later documents, although Vinland was often confused by foreign writers with Wendland in the Baltic. There is even a detailed article on the Pre-Columbian Discovery of America in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. All that was missing was plausible archaeological evidence.
00:50 "a forgery so well executed that it fooled the world for 60 years"
There are two issues with that claim. First, as I noted earlier, relevant experts saw through it straight away. Second, and directly related, what really fooled the world was not the forgery itself but the lies, misdirection and concealment which were employed to support it for several decades. Increased online availability of relevant resources made it possible in 2013, 48 years after the Map was revealed to the world, for Scottish researcher John Paul Floyd to present Yale (and readers of online discussions) with absolute proof that it was a fake.
01:40 "as normal, Laurence scoured the dusty shelves, ran his fingers across the books and all of a sudden he came across ..."
No, Enzo Ferrajoli was present, and personally showed Witten his latest acquisitions.
02:40 "perhaps it was a forgery, an extremely elaborate one at that"
That is an illustration of the place misdirection has played in the Vinland Map saga. Compared with a forgery of a banknote, or an Old Master painting, the Vinland Map is crude. Only the narrative texts relating to Vinland itself show any signs of effort, to the extent that the Map does not even label the other associated territories named in medieval documents.
02:59 "maps were being sold off in Europe at a profitable price for him to move on in the States"
"For him" gives an entirely wrong impression. In all likelihood, Witten was chosen by Rauch and Ferrajoli precisely because he was not a map specialist, as can be seen from his catalogues.
03:30 (on-screen image)
Paul's right to note in the video description that the photo here does not show Enzo Ferrajoli.
03:50 "account of a journey by two Polish clerics in the lands of Genghis Khan"
Actually a diplomatic mission ordered by the Pope, and led by the very experienced Italian cleric Giovanni da Pian del Carpine. Genghis had died nearly 20 years before the Carpine mission.
04:50 "if this was a forgery, it would take a team of highly skilled people to get everything right"
That's the misdirection at work again. Ferrajoli was fluent in several languages, including of course Latin, and had access to academic libraries. The map outlines are based on just two originals, 1430s for the old world, 1500s for the new; the extended text is based on the Tartar Relation for the old world, and probably a book called "The Evangelization of America Before Christopher Columbus" by Luca Jelic for the new. An unscrupulous freelancer in one of the many cities on Ferrajoli's business round would probably be hired for the calligraphy and bookbinding.
04:59 "the paper"
Please don't call it paper- the map was drawn on animal skin.
05:00 "look of the whole thing"
That's a classic example of the need for concealment. When actual manuscript experts at the British Museum saw the Vinland Map, their instant reaction was that it looked wrong, but they had been carefully kept away from the original authentication process.
05:10 "undoubtedly from other medieval maps with a similar date, North on top"
Or rather, as it turned out, the Old World was based on a single map, with east at the top, as was more common.
05:40 (on-screen image)
You may be amused to know that I created that illustration superimposing Greenland on a 20th century map.
05:49 "He purchased the Map for $3,500"
A common misconception. What Witten bought was the volume containing the Map and the Tartar Relation, which was demonstrably a variant account of the Carpine journey, adding significant new details to what was known from the familiar published text of Carpine's own account, called the Ystoria Mongalorum.
06:25 "3 years on and Witten had done very little with the Map, aside gift it to his wife"
The chronology is: autumn 1957, Witten buys the Tartar Relation & Map volume; returning to Connecticut, he shows it to Yale librarians Thomas Marston and Alexander Vietor; all three are troubled by the mis-matched wormholes, so Witten gives the volume to his wife; spring 1958, Marston receives an advance copy of a catalogue from London antiquarian booksellers Davis & Orioli, featuring the massive Speculum Historiale volume at a bargain price of £75 [then about $225], and swiftly orders it, among other items; when the consignment arrives, he invites Witten to have a look. The wormhole connection is made, and Witten embarks on a concentrated research programme, including further questioning of Ferrajoli on his annual European trip. He shows a draft of his research to Marston and Vietor in October 1958, then after revisions based on their suggestions, he and his wife offer the volume to Yale for about $300,000 early in 1959.
06:45 "what Witten was about to discover"
I think not. When Witten agreed to buy the tantalising volume, Ferrajoli put him in touch with Irving Davis, the dealer who had accompanied him to the British Museum, and they had a nice chat in a cafe in Milan.
06:55 "two of the world's leading cartographers"
More misdirection, it was actually one undeniable expert on late medieval maps, plus one opinionated expert on early printed books (bear in mind that the Tartar Relation volume was handwritten, not printed).
07:10 (Painter quote)
See what I mean about "opinionated?
07:40 "Skelton refused to take it any further"
Part of the cleverness of the hoax is that Skelton was absolutely unable to take it further. His actual job at the museum was keeper of printed maps, and when he showed the volume to his manuscript counterpart, the only person who could authorise a purchase, the Map was swiftly assessed as a likely forgery.
09:37 "he sold them all separately"
As I noted earlier, no, the Map and Tartar Relation were bound together, though formerly the Map parchment had been at the beginning of the Speculum volume and the Tartar Relation at the end.
09:40 "Witten and Marston started to make some noise about this but it wasn't easy"
Here we need to consider another clever part of the hoax. When somebody offers to sell a valuable item to an American academic institution, with staff backing, that institution will automatically consult its list of wealthy alumni. For the reasons why, see the first part of my "Hoaxes Within Hoaxes" video series.
10:10 "plus an entire group of specialists"
Absolutely not- misdirection strikes again. Paul Mellon accepted a recommendation probably made by Alexander Vietor on Yale's behalf, that the researchers should be Marston and Skelton, with Painter brought in for his Latin translation expertise. Because of the Map's significance to America, the documents were to be kept secret even from colleagues at Yale and the British Museum, which was perhaps as well; one person to whom Skelton did show a photographic copy of the Map before 1965, his friend Professor Eva Taylor, found it preposterous. There was some consultation of experts for clarification of particular details, but ironically, the only other person who provided serious academic input was Laurence Witten himself, subtly steering the process in the direction he wanted.
10:35 "9th of October 1965, the Map & the manuscripts were now public knowledge"
9th October 1965, designated by Presidential proclamation as Leif Erikson day following a tradition established the previous year, was a Saturday. To take full advantage of the news cycle, the Vinland Map announcement was therefore postponed to Monday 11th October. 12th October, following a tradition established in 1892, was Columbus Day- hence the Witten quote which follows.
11:32 "Nothing really changed for almost a decade"
Outwardly, that's true, but the main reason for that appearance was a mysterious years-long delay in publication of the proceedings of the 1966 conference and acting on its recommendations. One recommendation which was followed up within a few months was that the British Museum's truly relevant experts were finally allowed to study the Map when it visited London on a European tour early in 1967. Yale promised to publish their report, but sat on it until 1974, when it was presented at a Royal Geographical Society meeting in London alongside the results from the McCrone analyses commissioned by Yale.
12:30 "more akin to medieval inks"
A lot of "spin" went into reporting by various interested parties of the 1985 results (which, as reported in 2008, were wrong by 3 orders of magnitude anyway). That applies particularly to the reporting of iron and copper (ingredients of most medieval inks, but present on the Vinland Map at completely random locations).
12:55 "countless swayings back and forth"
Not really "countless". When Yale decided to issue a 30th anniversary edition of their 1965 book, they gave the impression that the mid-1980s analyses were new, and journalists fell for it. The big scientific breakthrough they had intended to release in 1995 was radiocarbon dating of the Map, but the results needed so much "spin" that they were hidden until 2002, just weeks after the publication of a new chemical analysis debunking the 1985 claims. [On screen here was an extract from the 2002 dating report, showing that the results had revealed that the Map parchment had been soaked in a chemical polluted with fallout which had spread across the world in the mid-1950s from above-ground nuclear bomb testing]. Books and TV documentaries in 2004 started to expose these shenanigans, and later "forth" swayings were rather lame.
13:08 "2021"
What about it? As I noted earlier, unassailable proof of forgery was presented by John Paul Floyd in 2013. If you think the proof of forgery was revealed in 2021 by Yale researchers, that's probably because they were so embarrassed that the main element of Floyd's proof was both simple and based on a source which had been used by the people who authenticated the Map in 1965. Instead of celebrating the 50th anniversary of their 1965 book in 2015, Yale chose to stop handling the Map with kid gloves, and threw at it pretty much every test they could think of, covering every square millimetre. Initial results were presented in 2018 at a symposium titled "The Vinland Map Rediscovered: New Research on the Forgery and its Historical Context" but more, including DNA tests, followed over the next couple of years. During the pandemic, various Yale academics turned their attention to video production, and that's the main reason why 2021 became a significant date.
13:44 "titanium dioxide is present everywhere on the map"
Strictly speaking, the point is that unlike the iron and copper contamination, the titanium dioxide is not "everywhere on the map" but heavily concentrated in the ink lines.
14:02 (altered caption explanation)
This whole explanation is a bit confusing- the "latter part" is latter only in the chronological sense, as it's the first part of the caption. Its actual significance is that the original caption read "Second part of 3rd part of the Speculum," correctly indicating that for this edition, Part 3 of the Speculum had had to be split between 2 volumes. The forger added "Delineation of the first part" at the beginning of the caption, but couldn't quite make the Latin grammatically correct.
Ending (the "Meadow Cove" discoveries)
For a brief look at the genuine old Vinland map which helped the Ingstads to find the Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, see my 55-second bonus video.

In conclusion, my own viewpoint is that the Vinland Map saga is a truly shameful story, driven by dishonesty and obstinacy over several decades.