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Science, Myth, and Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga

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The Vinland Map. Photo courtesy Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Science, Myth, and Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga
May 19, 2018-October 31, 2018
R.J. Schaefer Gallery

At a moment in time in American culture when debate rages over what is real news and what is fake news, Mystic Seaport Museum brings back to the limelight a controversy from more than 50 years ago that rocked the scientific, historical and cultural realms of U.S. society.

Science, Myth & Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga, which opens May 19, explores the stories around and behind the publication in 1965 of a scholarly examination of a piece of parchment known as the Vinland Map. This exhibition is made possible in collaboration with the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Publication of the Vinland Map threw into question the long-held belief that Christopher Columbus was the first European to reach American shores, in 1492. The map was dated by Yale researchers to about 1440, igniting a firestorm of debate about the moment of first contact —could it be that Vikings from Scandinavia reached North American shores as early as the year 1000?

Science, Myth & Mystery brings the Vinland Map itself to public view for the first time in the United States outside of New Haven in more than 50 years. The exhibition will place the visitor into the moment in time in October of 1965 when the map was first unveiled. It brings to life the fascinating journey of the map from its initial discovery in 1957 to its acquisition by Yale in 1965; the research conducted by a team of hand-picked specialists to authenticate the map; and the hoopla surrounding the unveiling on October 11, 1965 (the day between Leif Ericson Day and Columbus Day).

In addition to the story of the map, Science, Myth & Mystery chronicles the findings of Helge and Anne Ingstad, husband and wife explorers and archeologists who discovered a Norse settlement on the Newfoundland coast that dates to the year 1000. Their discoveries were made public in 1964, laying the groundwork for the acceptance of the Vinland Map’s authenticity the following year.

The exhibition brings the map from its controversial unveiling in 1965 through its battery of tests over the years and right into the 21st century, with details about 2018 tests being conducted by Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. Mystic Seaport Museum is proud to take a rare artifact that holds a key place in American history and bring it into the conversation that is happening today at kitchen tables, street corners, and university hallways in a relevant and important way.