50 Years After the Firestorm: New Exhibition Reexamines the Vinland Map Controversy

Mystic Seaport Museum to Open “Science, Myth & Mystery: The Vinland Map Saga” May 19; Exhibition Explores How a Map Ignites a National Debate About the First European Contact with America

Mystic, Conn. (May 10, 2018) — At a moment in time in American culture when debate rages over what is real 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, 2018, 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 partnership with the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at 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 outside of New Haven for the first time in the United States 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 authentication research conducted by a team of hand-picked specialists; and the hoopla surrounding the unveiling on October 11, 1965 (the day between Leif Ericson Day and Columbus Day that year).

“This is an incredible opportunity for Mystic Seaport Museum to take a rare artifact that holds a key place in American history and bring it into the conversation that we see happening today at kitchen tables and in university hallways in a relevant and important way,” said Nicholas Bell, senior vice president for curatorial affairs at the Museum. “Being able to provide in this exhibition the context of the times, along with never-before-seen details of the research that went into the map, makes this a terrific addition to an already robust roster of projects we have ongoing here.”

“The Beinecke Library aims to excite scholars and the public to engage the past, in the present, to inform the future,” said Edwin C. Schroeder, the library’s director. “The history of the Vinland Map, acquired more than 50 years ago, offers insights into art, science, and society that remain relevant today. We are delighted to partner with an esteemed fellow Connecticut cultural institution to bring this artifact and its context to a contemporary audience.”

In addition to the story of the map, “Science, Myth & Mystery” chronicles the findings of Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad, husband and wife explorers and archeologists who discovered a Norse settlement on the Newfoundland coast that dates to the year 1000. They used what is known as the Vinland Sagas — Norse oral histories that detail Viking explorers traveling to Iceland, Greenland and even farther west and south — as the basis for their search. Starting in 1961, they uncover Viking artifacts near a small town called L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland dating 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 presently being conducted by the Yale Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage.

“Science, Myth & Mystery” runs through September 30, 2018, in the Museum’s R.J. Schaefer Building.

About Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic Seaport Museum, founded in 1929, is the nation’s leading maritime museum. In addition to providing a multitude of immersive experiences, the Museum also houses a collection of more than two million artifacts that include more than 500 historic vessels and one of the largest collections of maritime photography. The iconic Thompson Exhibition Building is a state-of-the-art gallery that will host The Vikings Begin: Treasures from Uppsala University, Sweden installation beginning on May 19, 2018. Mystic Seaport Museum is located one mile south of Exit 90 off I-95 in Mystic, CT. For more information, please visit www.mysticseaport.org  and follow Mystic Seaport Museum on FacebookTwitterYouTube, and Instagram.