Bonus! Prof. Eva Taylor and the Map

As noted in my videos, Peter Skelton made one exception to his vow of secrecy when studying the Vinland Map, involving his friend Prof. Eva Taylor of Birkbeck College, London. The material she gathered in the course of her studies of the Map can be seen today at the British Library (Add. MS 71873 0). Dozens and dozens of the items in the collection are tracings of maps of North America, Greenland etc., from sources old and new, gathered to test her theory that different parts of the Vinland Map outline were copied from different maps. As also indicated in the videos, the 2012-3 discoveries of John Paul Floyd, combined with my own work on the use of photography in creating the Vinland Map outline, suggest that the main Old World landmass was all copied, with deliberate distortions, from a single map known to Skelton, but other maps were indeed used for the major islands in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

A letter from Skelton included in the collection, dated 3 July 1963, confirms that he had showed her the very first draft of his essay on the Map for the official book "The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation" about a year earlier (and that, having delivered his final draft to Yale in February 1963, he expected his co-authors' essays to reach the printer later in July). Anticipating publication of the book, Eva therefore worked in August and September on her own response, an essay on "Cartographic Evidence of Forgery" on the Vinland Map. Her first draft opened:

"Now that old maps and atlases change hands at very high prices their forgery has become profitable. It is therefore no longer safe to accept a 'newly discovered' map of the sixteenth century or an earlier date as genuine unless something of its past history is known."
Completion of the official book was delayed, but Prof. Taylor stated her position anyway, without specifically mentioning the still-secret Vinland Map, in a letter published in the London Times on 14 November 1963. Two days later, a response from Skelton (also not mentioning the big secret) was published, arguing that:
"If the content and form of the counterfeit map are to pass for genuine, its author must be at once an accomplished scholar and a resourceful craftsman, since his work has to survive the critical scrutiny of experts in various fields of knowledge and technology."
While that was, of course, true, it did not take account of the phenomenon I have called "vicispiracy"- a chain of people following the original creator of the hoax, with their own incentives to help it survive or dodge critical scrutiny. However, it was purely accidental that the eventual delay of nearly two years in publication of the book (Skelton to Taylor, 20 May 1964: "The other contributors delayed the operation ... I rather doubt now whether it will be out this year") meant that by the time it did appear, Eva was terminally ill and living in a nursing home. She did write again to The Times, offering her full proof of forgery, but the typescript was still at Birkbeck, and its custodian, her former student Eila Campbell, was working in Poland (as Eva apologetically explained in a letter on 18 October 1965). The college authorities managed to locate the illustrations for the article, but not the typescript itself.

Mike Richey of the Institute of Navigation contacted his old friend Hugh Astor, at The Times to assure him that, when found, the article would be worth publishing, but Eila Campbell, who had studied it closely, had serious doubts. In a letter to Richey, 18 November 1965, she reported that she had found some of Prof. Taylor's map tracings and measurements were inaccurate; also some features Eva had identified on the photographic copy of the map Peter Skelton had provided for her were artefacts, not seen on the higher-quality photo published in the official book. In a follow-up letter on 22 November, she recommended that the article should be checked by G.R. Crone, librarian of the Royal Geographical Society (who was already engaged in a battle of letters with Skelton over the Map's authenticity).

Eva herself had the opportunity to compare the photos of the Map about this time, and wrote to Eila on 23 November, agreeing with her conclusion about the artefacts (specifically a "mirror image Greenland" which appeared to have resulted from the use of strong back-lighting when photographing the back of the Map parchment). Campbell forwarded this to Richey the next day, but her other doubts remained, and she commented: "My fear is that as soon as her article is published, we shall all wish that we had never become involved." To Eva, he therefore proposed (1 December) a compromise, that in the Journal of the Institute of Navigation, he would publish a summary of the article, without material which relied on incorrect tracings etc. This he did, publicising it to the wider academic world with a letter in the Times Literary Supplement (16 December).

The way The Times eventually used the material was ingenious. In 1963 the Sunday Times had established a well-resourced department for special investigations, called the Insight Team, which now began work on the story of the Vinland Map. I must confess that in my own research on the Vinland Map, at the start of the 21st century, I did not pay sufficient attention to the team's feature article, published on 6 March 1966, precisely because it was so accurate. Its claims seemed entirely reasonable in retrospect, but in some cases they had not been confirmed until decades later. Consider, for example, the following statement about Yale's acquisition of the Map:
"The purchase is believed to have been underwritten by the American millionaire Paul D. Mellon for a sum in the region of £100,000"
- not until 1996 did Mellon admit that he was indeed the anonymous donor, and the £100,000 figure (then roughly $300,000) is significant because Yale's publicity when the Map was revealed just 20 weeks earlier had hinted that its value was not far off a million dollars, a discrepancy very important in analysing the progress of the vicispiracy.

From Prof. Taylor's work they picked three major claims; first that, as G.R. Crone and others had also observed, the Map's depiction of Greenland should have been impossible in the Middle Ages; second that of all the areas of the world to depict badly on a 15th century world map, the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean were about the least likely; third, its depiction of the position of Iceland relative to Ireland etc. could potentially have been traced same-size from a detail of Mercator's famous 1569 world map (using the projection he invented) published in the journal Imago Mundi. The Team also reported that on 24 February, Skelton had read a paper to a meeting at the Society of Antiquaries, chaired by the palaeographer Prof. Francis Wormald, where members identified, on the images he showed, specific discrepancies between the handwriting of the "Speculum" manuscript and the Map, a theme which would be re-iterated by other palaeographers in later years.

Eva Taylor died on 5 July 1966, at the age of 85. Eila Campbell wrote her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The Royal Geographical Society's annual EGR Taylor Lecture is an ongoing tradition.