Episode Description

The Vinland Map

Locked in a vault at Yale University in Connecticut is an extraordinary document that, if real, could rewrite the history of the Western world.

The document, known as The Vinland Map, shows a fairly good representation of Europe, a good bulge of Northern Africa, an over-exaggerated representation of the Azores, a large mass that roughly feels like Russia and central Asia, and a very good Greenland.  But the most explosive information on the map is a tiny landmass to the West.  Labelled  “VINLAND” its position perfectly represents the East Coast of North America. 

But here’s the problem:  the map is dated to 1440, 50 years before Columbus. If this map shows the new world, it shouldn’t exist.  Why is this map not one of the most important documents in existence? Why is it locked away? Is it hidden in secrecy or shame?

Since it first came to light in 1957, the Vinland Map has been subjected to a battery of scientific tests to determine whether it is real – or an exceptionally clever hoax. If the map was created in the 15th century could knowledge of “Vinland” - the name the Vikings gave the east coast of North America  - have been passed down to a 15th century map maker? If so, how?

Through examining the information on the map, the parchment, the ink and the writing, we explore the possibility that the map may have been created at a church council in Basel, Switzerland when bishops and priests from all over Europe met over the course of a decade in the 1430s to share knowledge and debate the future of the Roman Catholic Church. Could Columbus have known about such a map when he set off on the voyages that led him to North America? Or is the map a much more recent, and clever forgery? A foremost Norse scholar presents her theory of a modern day forger working in secrecy in a monastery in wartime Austria.

Following the story of the map, we trace the archeological clues discovered in a Viking settlement in Newfoundland – and travel on board a replica Viking ship to witness first hand how the Vikings navigated on their long sea voyages.

The story of the Vinland Map is a tale bound in controversy and mystery. In de-coding its provenance, it calls into question our understanding of who we are and why conventional history may be wrong.

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