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It’s all in the ink: Vinland Map is definitely a fake, new analysis finds

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Enlarge / The Vinland Map purports to be a 15th-century map with a pre-Columbian depiction of the North American Coast. A new analysis has confirmed that the map is, in fact, a modern-day forgery.

Scholars have questioned the authenticity of a purported 15th-century map housed in Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library since it was first unveiled to the public in 1965. About the size of a placemat, the Vinland Map is an intriguing document because, in addition to Africa, Asia, and Europe, the map depicts a section of the North American coastline identified as “Vinlandia Insula” just southwest of Greenland. This suggested that Norsemen may have been the first Europeans to discover the Americas, well before the first voyage of Christopher Columbus.

That would have major historical significance, if proven. But evidence that the map is a hoax has been steadily accumulating, particularly over the last few years. And the latest scientific analysis has definitively put an end to the controversy once and for all: the inks used to draw the map are of modern origin.

“The Vinland Map is a fake,” said Raymond Clemens, curator of early books and manuscripts at the Beinecke. “There is no reasonable doubt here. This new analysis should put the matter to rest.”

The map first came to light in 1957, when a London book dealer named Irving Davis initially offered the Vinland Map—then bound together with a medieval text, Hystoria Tartarorum—to the British Museum, acting on behalf of another European dealer named Enzo Ferrajoli de Ry. (It was later discovered that Ferrajoli had been convicted of possessing stolen manuscripts in the 1950s.) But the museum’s Keeper of Manuscripts thought the handwriting style showed elements that weren’t common until the 19th century and passed on the offer, suspecting a forgery.

An American dealer, Laurence C. Witten III, ended up purchasing the volume for $3,500 and offered to sell it in turn to Yale (his alma mater) for $300,000. The price was a bit steep for the university, but another alumnus agreed to purchase the map and donate it to Yale, provided its authenticity was confirmed.

Wormholes

The map’s existence was kept secret for several years as a handful of scholars examined the artifact in detail, all while writing a book about their findings. There was good reason to be suspicious: while both the map and the Hystoria were dotted with wormholes, those wormholes didn’t line up with each other. And Witten was reluctant to reveal the map’s provenance, possibly because of tax concerns.

But the following year, Davis sold Yale another medieval tome, the Speculum Historiale, which also had wormholes—and those wormholes did line up with the Vinland Map. Clearly, all three books had been bound together into a single volume at some point. Since both the Hystoria and Speculum were genuine, it seemed more likely that the Vinland Map was genuine as well. Further encouragement came with the discovery of a Norse archaeological site in 1960 at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland—the only confirmed Norse settlement in or near North America outside of Greenland.

An inscription on the back of the map (top) was overwritten in an apparent attempt to deceive. The bottom image shows the presence of titanium in the ink, which strongly suggests a modern origin.
Enlarge / An inscription on the back of the map (top) was overwritten in an apparent attempt to deceive. The bottom image shows the presence of titanium in the ink, which strongly suggests a modern origin.

Yale publicly announced its acquisition of the Vinland Map just before Columbus Day in 1965. Experts questioned its authenticity almost immediately and even held a conference at the Smithsonian Institution the following year. Among other criticisms, no scientists had been allowed to examine the map since 1957. Radiocarbon dating done in 1995 found that the parchment, at least, was genuine and likely originated between 1423 and 1445. But in addition to the handwriting concerns, the British Museum’s experts had noted peculiarities about the inks used to create the Vinland Map. The experts found no trace of the iron-gall ink used in the two books with which it had been bound, and they couldn’t identify the recipes.

That was a task for science, and science obliged in 1972. That’s when forensic specialist Walter McCrone conducted a number of chemical analyses on the inks. He found that the map’s yellowish lines—beneath nearly vanished black lines—contained titanium dioxide (anatase) in a form that wasn’t manufactured until the 1920s. Only trace amounts of iron were in the ink. The titanium finding was called into question in the early 1980s, when scientists at the University of California, Davis studied the map with Particle-Induced X-ray Emission (PIXE) and found only trace amounts—the first time the PIXE technique had been used for ink analysis. However, subsequent PIXE data gleaned over the ensuing decades cumulatively demonstrated that the discrepancy was due to errors in the UC-Davis team’s work.

Yale declined to weigh in on the controversy while all the various examinations were being done, although Yale historian Paul Freedman said during a 2011 lecture that he thought the Vinland Map “was unfortunately a fake.” By 2018, Richard Hark, a conservation scientist at Yale, had conducted a new global chemical analyses and also found anatase, concluding the ink was modern. At this point, it seemed fairly certain that the document was a fake.

More X-rays

This latest chemical analyses by Yale is notable because they are the first complete examination of the entire document’s composition of elements, using tools and techniques not available previously. Yale University conservators Marie-France Lemay and Paula Zyats worked with scientists in Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage on the various experiments. They subjected the ink to X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy to identify how various elements were distributed throughout the map. That gave the team a “big picture” data set, rather than focusing on individual points.

Macro X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) revealed the presence of titanium throughout the map's lines and text.
Enlarge / Macro X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) revealed the presence of titanium throughout the map’s lines and text.

The conservators found no sign of iron, sulfur, or copper, which would be typical of a medieval iron-gall ink. As for the Vinland Insula portion of the map, there were high levels of titanium and small amounts of barium, consistent with commercially manufactured white pigments in the 1920s. For comparison, the team also analyzed the inks used in 50 15th-century medieval manuscripts in the Beinecke’s collection, all containing significantly lower amounts of titanium than the inks used to draw the map, as well as much higher levels of iron. A follow-up analysis using field emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) ruled out the possibility that the anatase could be naturally occurring.

So the Vinland Map is most definitely a modern forgery—and probably a deliberate one. According to Hark, an inscription on the back of the map appears to have been a bookbinder’s note on how to put together the original Speculum manuscript. But it was written over with modern ink. “The altered inscription certainly seems like an attempt to make people believe the map was created at the same time as the Speculum Historiale,” said Clemens. “It’s powerful evidence that this is a forgery, not an innocent creation by a third party that was co-opted by someone else, although it doesn’t tell us who perpetrated the deception.”

The team also examined the Speculum and Hystoria medieval texts. Radiocarbon dating showed those texts dated back to between 1400 and 1460, in keeping with the parchment used to create the Vinland Map. So the forger seems to have used empty pages from a genuine 15th-century manuscript to create the map. One leaf of the Speculum had the watermark of a paper mill in Basel, Switzerland, and the texts of both the Speculum and Hystoria look like the handwriting of the same scribe. Apparently, the two volumes were often bound together, per Zyats, as evidenced by the recent discovery of a 14th-century copy of the Speculum with a copy of the Hystoria bound in its final volume.

Clemens expressed relief that the question of authenticity (or lack thereof) of the Vinland Map has finally been settled. “Objects like the Vinland Map soak up a lot of intellectual air space,” he said. “We don’t want this to continue to be a controversy. There are so many fun and fascinating things that we ought to be examining that can actually tell us something about exploration and travel in the medieval world.”

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Review: More remix than adaptation, Foundation is top-notch storytelling

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Isaac Asimov’s hugely influential Foundation series of science fiction novels is notoriously difficult to adapt to the screen. The author himself admitted that he wrote strictly for the printed page, and he always refused invitations to adapt his work for film or TV. But Asimov was more than happy to let others adapt his work to a new medium, and he was wise enough to expect that there would—and should—be significant departures from the print version.

That’s just what showrunner David S. Goyer (Dark Knight trilogy, Da Vinci’s Demons) has done with Foundation, Apple TV+’s visually stunning, eminently bingeable new series. Goyer describes it as more of a remix than a direct adaptation, and to my taste, it is a smashing success in storytelling. This series respects Asimov’s sweeping visionary ideas without lapsing into slavish reverence and over-pontification. That said, how much you like Goyer’s vision might depend on how much of a stickler you are about remaining faithful to the source material.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

The fundamental narrative arc of the series remains intact. It’s a story that takes place across multiple planets over 1,000 years, with a huge cast of characters. Mathematician Hari Seldon (Jared Harris, Chernobyl, Carnival Row) has developed a controversial theory of “psychohistory” that essentially applies math to sociology to make predictions about the future of the Galactic Empire, which rules every living person in the Milky Way. Seldon’s calculations predict the fall of the empire, ushering in a Dark Ages that will last 30,000 years, after which a second empire will emerge.

The collapse of the empire is inevitable, but Seldon has a plan to reduce the Dark Ages to a mere 1,000 years through the establishment of a Foundation to preserve all human knowledge so that civilization need not rebuild itself entirely from scratch. He is aided by his adoptive son and right-hand man, Raych Foss (Alfred Enoch, who played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter franchise) and his new protege, Gaal Dornick (Lou Llobell, Voyagers), a math prodigy who travels to the capital to work with Seldon.

Seldon’s predictions make him a dangerous traitor in the eyes of the empire’s rulers. As he himself notes, those in power fear and despise change, and yet change is constant—and inevitable. Instead of executing him and creating a martyr, the rulers exile Seldon to the remote planet of Terminus at the edge of the galaxy, along with the members of the new Foundation, where they begin compiling the Encyclopedia Galactica.

Eventually, there is a threat from a neighboring outer planet, ultimately resolved by the warden of Terminus, Salvor Hardin (Leah Harvey, Fighting with my Family). And the Foundation members learn that Seldon’s plan was far more ambitious and complex than they realized. He told them just enough to set events in motion, since the tenets of psychohistory include an uncertainty principle of sociology, whereby if the collective population learns too much about its predicted fateful actions, those actions will soon become unpredictable. The clash between Seldon and the empire has often been described as a thousand-year game of chess, but there’s an element of rolling the dice and trusting in probabilities for the long game as well.

Perhaps the biggest change from the books is the replacement of the Empire’s ruling committee with a trio of clones called the Cleons. Brother Day (Lee Pace, Halt and Catch Fire, Pushing Daisies) is the primary ruler, with Brother Dusk (Terrance Mann, Sense8) serving in an advisory/legacy role. Meanwhile, Brother Dawn (played as a child by Cooper Carter and as a teenager by Cassian Bilton) is being groomed to take over as the new Brother Day. This gives more of a human face to the rulers, with complex emotions and interpersonal relationships, and all the actors are perfectly cast. I personally would watch Lee Pace read the phone book, and he has much meatier fare to work with here. Technically, they are all perfect incarnations of the same man, at different ages, and this is both the source of their strength as a team and of their conflicts. (Dusk has gained valuable wisdom, if the younger, strong-willed Day could bring himself to listen.)

We knew from the trailers that Salvor Hardin, warden of Terminus, had been gender-swapped, but the character has also been completely reimagined. The Salvor of the books is a shrewd politician (the latest in a long line) who deftly navigates a fraught political environment as the Foundation plants roots on Terminus. In the series, Salvor is a young woman who is still figuring out who she is and what role she’s meant to play in Seldon’s great plan. She shares many of the same traits as Book Salvor, but they are not yet fully developed. She also has a love interest in intergalactic space junker Hugo Krast (Daniel MacPherson, A Wrinkle in Time), and a secret connection in the grand scheme of things that we shall refrain from revealing here.

Asimov’s original trilogy was (to my college self) an enjoyably brisk read, even if the prose got a bit dry and cerebral at times. Goyer has preserved that same tight pacing in the TV series, deftly weaving in character backstories to flesh them out, setting up relationships and the inevitable conflicts between those characters, and inventing some pretty big dramatic moments out of whole cloth to keep the story humming along and viewers hooked. The story jumps between settings and time periods quite a lot, but the writers have done an excellent job sign-posting those jumps, especially in the earlier episodes, to ensure viewers are sufficiently oriented to follow along. (No need for elaborate timeline charts here, as with The Witcher and Dark, although that may change with subsequent seasons.)

The actors all deliver strong, powerful performances from the aforementioned leads on down, and the cinematography and costume and production design are exceptional. Apple TV+ is deeply invested in this series, and it shows. If I had one tiny quibble, it would be that Goyer had so much ground to cover to set up this first season that the big ideas sometimes feel more ornamental than central. I’d love to see the ensuing seasons (assuming they transpire) take a few more breaths here and there to bring those elements front and center more often. I’m confident this writing team could do so without bogging down everything else that works so well.

In short, this is a terrific first ten episodes—Goyer envisions some 80 episodes, should Apple TV+ give him the chance—with no maddening cliffhanger. The finale resolves several plot lines and sets up a few others, leaving viewers both satisfied and eager for more. I think Asimov himself would be pleased with Foundation, particularly since his daughter Robyn is an executive producer on the series and signed off on Goyer’s vision.

The first two episodes of Foundation are now available for streaming on Apple TV+. New episodes will drop every Friday until the S1 finale on November 19, 2021.

Listing image by YouTube/Apple TV+

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Death Stranding Director’s Cut review: More fun, just as divisive

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Death Stranding‘s release in 2019 was probably the most anticipated game of Hideo Kojima’s career.

The Metal Gear director had arguably become the premiere auteur in video games. He had a reputation for convention-bucking design, meta-humor, and unapologetic cinematic influences. But this project was the first child of his acrimonious divorce with Konami, and no one had a clue what he might do next.

Death Stranding was appropriately weird, whatever it was. The first teaser showed crab exoskeletons crawling over a lifeless beach, tar handprints imprinted on the sand, a naked, weeping Norman Reedus (Senior Gaming Editor Kyle Orland noted in our original review on PS4, Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima unleashed. So what could possibly be left for a Death Stranding Director’s Cut? It turns out, quite a lot—just maybe not by that name.

Death Stranding Director’s Cut [PS5]

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A Hideo Kojima game, still

Yes, Death Stranding has finally hit PS5, and it’s as uncompromising now as it was two years ago—even if it doesn’t much resemble a director’s cut in the typical film sense. Unlike Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut (Sony’s other recent PS5 re-release buoyed by extended content), Death Stranding‘s doesn’t have a full-blown expansion bolted on to its older foundations to help flesh out its story.

Kojima doesn’t agree with its naming convention, either, which won’t faze anyone who follows his daily film, book, and music recommendations on social media. In a recent tweet, he offered a more fitting name for this release (“Director’s Plus”), confirming that there wasn’t a collection of cutting-room-floor scenes inserted back into the original’s ambitious, unwieldy script.

If you skipped Death Stranding when it was on PS4 or PC, Director’s Cut is the one to play. It offers fresh goodies for players to mess around with and a couple of fun, if bite-sized, new mission areas which blatantly call back to Metal Gear, among other things. As a bells-and-whistles port, Director’s Cut does a good job of expanding on its delivery-man-in-the-post-apocalypse-simulator premise, bolstered by the exclusive DLC of its release and tweaked further to take full advantage of the PS5’s suite of exclusive features.

These extras don’t necessarily push things far outside the grueling moment-to-moment revolutions of the game’s underlying systems—and in some instances, they even intensify the game. But what stands out more to me than the advertised toys is how KojiPro has gone back and seemingly re-finessed what was previously there, going so far as to smooth out some of the prickly rough edges that divided players on release. Though subtle, these revisions offer the best argument for playing (or replaying) this version. That said, I’ve loved Kojima’s work since 1998, so if you weren’t already on board for Death Stranding‘s wild ride, my digging into what’s new here may not change your mind.

For everyone else, you’ll find plenty of Kojima goodness. Director’s Cut leans into Metal Gear‘s inclination to turn on a dime from theatrical gravitas to left-field absurdity, something that was curbed a bit in the original Death Stranding. Now you’re free to run for your life past umbilical-corded monsters to building ramps for daredevil jumping over chasms, or you can use a cargo catapult as a remote-controlled mortar to bombard terrorists in POV with a load of parcels—y’know, normal stuff for any software carrying the “A Hideo Kojima Game” label.

There’s more here for diligent players, too. You can uncover additional equipment types designed for more efficient hauls across Death Stranding‘s desolate landscape, a genuinely unexpected shift that goes a long way toward making Director’s Cut as inviting for newcomers as it ever will be. There are also actual changes to the game world itself, though you’d likely never notice them without comparing this version with the PS4’s. Regardless of whatever you choose to do, though, you’re playing in Kojima’s sandbox. Hope you like his pitch.

Reconnecting the world?

If you’ve never touched Death Stranding, it’s a good example of what happens with a celebrity creative calls up all his buddies to make something crazy. Joining Reedus, several of its characters are played by actors or directors Kojima deeply admires, including Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal, Casino Royale), Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color), Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water), and Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives), and Wonder Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner, though she was mostly let off the hook for voice work alongside Del Toro and Refn. A number of other friends appear as survivors in the world: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kong: Skull Island), Geoff Keighley, Junji Ito, Famitsu Weekly editor Hirokazu Hamamura, Remedy head and Max Payne face model Sam Lake—the list goes on.

Its plot sounds equally insane. After a future America is devastated by a mysterious cataclysm, invisible ghosts from a post-limbo otherworld permeate the land of the living. These ghosts (BTs, an abbreviation for “Beached Things”) cause voidouts (massive explosions that annihilate entire cities) when they come into contact with a human. Meanwhile, any corpse will transform into a BT itself if not incinerated. Following the disaster, the country is in shambles, and survivors from sea to shining sea to permanently hunker down in underground shelters. They want to avoid BTs and the storms of instant-aging “timefall” the monsters bring in their wake.

Sam Porter Bridges (Reedus), a porter from the organization Bridges (one of Kojima’s tamer name choices) is different. He can come back from the dead, for one. He also has an affliction that allows him to sense nearby BTs, and he is partnered with the baby from the game’s first teaser, BB, who lives in a pod on Sam’s chest and operates as a living spectral radar to make BTs visible. With these gifts, Sam is tasked by Bridges with the unenviable job of saving what’s left of America and reintegrating the now-disparate “strands” of society through an interconnected successor to the internet.

As such, you deliver cargo to people in need on a coast-to-coast journey while also bringing more nodes into the so-called Chiral Network. In a clever touch, outposts throughout the country indirectly connect you with other players on their own expeditions, allowing anyone “in-network” to share items, traversal equipment, vehicles, and (if they feel like lending a hand) lost deliveries, transported asynchronously in from others’ games.

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Apple turns post-lawsuit tables on Epic, will block Fortnite on iOS

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Enlarge / A Fortnite loading screen displayed on an iPhone in 2018, when Apple and Epic weren’t at each other’s legal throats.

Weeks after Epic’s apparent “win” against Apple in the Epic Games v. Apple case, Apple issued a letter denying Epic’s request to have its developer license agreement reinstated until all legal options are exhausted. This effectively bans Fortnite and any other software from the game maker from returning to Apple’s App Store for years.

Epic was handed an initial victory when the US District Court for Northern California issued an injunction on September 10 ordering Apple to open up in-game payment options for all developers. At the time, the injunction was something of a moral victory for Epic—allowing the developer to keep its in-game payment systems in its free-to-play Fortnite intact while avoiding paying Apple a 30 percent fee that had previously covered all in-app transactions.

But now Epic has faced a significant reversal of fortune.

In a letter sent on September 21 to Epic’s legal counsel, Apple’s lawyers said the company refused to reinstate Epic’s account until the courts issue a final, non-appealable verdict. Epic CEO Tim Sweeney revealed Apple’s decision in series of tweets posted on September 22. Sweeney claims the appeals process for the case could take as long as five years.

Apple’s revocation of Epic’s developer license—required to develop and distribute games to the App Store—was “valid, lawful, and enforceable,” Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said in her ruling. This leaves the decision whether to allow Epic back into the App Store up to Apple.

Apple’s legal team also cited Epic’s alleged “duplicitous” conduct. Apple is referring to the move that sparked the case—Epic adding code into iOS’s version of Fortnite that enable users to buy items directly from the company.

The letter pointed to a tweet Sweeney had posted earlier this month. In the tweet, Sweeney said he “wouldn’t trade an alternative payment system away to get Fortnite back on iOS.” Sweeney said his words were taken out of context.

Sweeney tweeted an email he wrote to Apple’s legal counsel on September 16, stating that, while Epic was appealing the court’s decision, the developer had paid Apple the court-ordered $6 million in damages required by the September 10 ruling. He said that his company had disabled the server-side software required for in-game payments for players who still had Fortnite installed on their iOS devices. He also alleged that Apple lied about its intentions to work with Epic to bring the developer back to the App Store.

“Apple lied,” Sweeney said. “Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else.’ Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users.”

While the September 10 ruling went in Apple’s favor, the company was not granted everything it sought in its legal defense. Judge Gonzalez Rogers gave Apple a victory in ruling it had not violated antitrust law, though the company lost the ability to prevent developers from including and advertising their own in-game app purchase payment systems. That ruling could lead to greater repercussions for Apple from other game makers or subscription service providers in the future.

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