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Science Mystery: The Vinland MapScience-Mystery-The-Vinland-Map

  • Subject: Geography
  • |
  • Grade(s): 9-12
  • |
  • Duration: One class period

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Several years ago, Yale University acquired the Vinland map depicting an unknown coastal region of North America discovered by the Vikings.
2. The early Norse explorers are thought to have recorded the map.
3. The map is the oldest map of North America ever found.
4. Experts have disagreed regarding the authenticity of the map.


For this lesson, you will need:
Research materials on the Vikings and the Norse explorers
Computer with Internet access


1. Introduce to your students some background material regarding the Vinland map, and encourage them to do further research on the Norse explorers and on the map itself, using the Internet.
2. Have them concentrate on finding arguments for and against the map's authenticity.
3. Divide your class into groups. Instruct each group to split into two teams to debate the following: "Resolved: The Vinland map is authentic." The "pro" team will argue in favor of the resolution; the "con" team will argue that the map is a forgery. One member of each group should act as "judge."
4. After the debates have been held, meet with the whole class to compare and contrast the results of the debates. Did more pro or con teams win? What were the most compelling arguments on both sides?
5. Have each student write a short essay stating her or his opinion on the issue and supporting that opinion with documented facts learned from research.

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Rather than holding group debates, hold a teacher-led, whole-class discussion about the authenticity of the Vinland map.

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Discussion Questions

1. Compare and contrast the scientific methods used to examine the validity of the Vinland map and discuss the outcomes. Was this a fair test?
2. If the scientists and scholars determine that the Vinland map is authentic, how does this discovery affect history and geography?
3. Assume the map is a forgery. Why do you think someone would do this, and are there any situations in which forgery is an acceptable choice?
4. Why do you think animals underground have lost their sense of sight? Are there other environments in which the sense of sight might be reduced or eliminated?
5. Compare and contrast the qualities of underground animals like the fish, worms and insects with those of animals above the surface. In what ways have underground animals adapted to their environment?
6. Explain how the layers of the earth can provide us with important historical information.

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You can evaluate your students on their essays using the following three-point rubric:
Three points: position clearly stated; position supported with numerous facts; facts clearly documented; writing free of errors
Two points: position clearly stated; position supported with some facts; not all facts documented; some errors
One point: position adequately stated; position inadequately supported; facts insufficiently documented; numerous errors
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining which facts would best support both sides of the argument.

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Ancient Maps
Have students research and examine ancient world maps and redraw them, adding new information from the Vinland map.

Science Detectives
Have students research methods scientists use to confirm the authenticity of archeological finds. Different students can concentrate on different fields of archaeology—ancient manuscripts, works of art, ancient ruins, fossils, and so on.

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Suggested Readings

Why Nothing Can Travel Faster than Light--and Other Explorations in Nature's Curiosity Shop
Barry E. and David J. Zimmerman, Contemporary Books, 1993
Two brothers who teach science offer essays about the mysteries of everyday scientific phenomena that surround us, all of which reflect their fresh idea that nature is a "curiosity shop."

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Many Ways of Seeing: Lesson 1 - Fakes And Forgeries
Learn about fakes and forgeries in the art world.

The Shroud of Turin: The 1978 Scientific Examination
Provides great detail on another historical controversy regarding the authenticity of an ancient artifact that many claim is the burial cloth of Jesus.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    controversial
Definition: Marked by a dispute, especially a public one, between sides holding opposing views.
Context: He was asked to determine the age of the controversial map.

speaker    forgery
Definition: Something fashioned or reproduced for fraudulent purposes; a counterfeit.
Context: Some experts believe that the Vinland map was a forgery.

speaker    titanium
Definition: Strong, corrosion-resistant, lustrous white metallic element that occurs widely in igneous rocks.
Context: Among painters, titanium white is well known.

speaker    cyclotron
Definition: A circular particle accelerator in which charged subatomic particles generated at a central source are accelerated spirally outward in a plane perpendicular to a fixed magnetic field by an alternating electric field.
Context: A cyclotron creates a high speed beam of protons.

speaker    sanctuary
Definition: A place of refuge or asylum.
Context: Caves provide a sanctuary for some of our earliest ancestors.

speaker    subterranean
Definition: Situated or operating beneath the Earth's surface; underground.
Context: A subterranean river called the Logsbin.

speaker    carbonic acid
Definition: A weak, unstable acid present in solutions of carbon dioxide in water.
Context: Carbonic acid gently but persistently eats away the limestone.

speaker    chert
Definition: A quartz-like mineral found in the earth.
Context: A quartz-like mineral called chert.

speaker    Paleozoic
Definition: Designating the era of geologic time between the Precambrian Era and the Mesozoic Era, characterized by the appearance of marine invertebrates, primitive fishes, land plants and primitive reptiles.
Context: The Paleozoic Era was about 350 million years ago.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Knows that all species ultimately depend on one another; interactions between two types of organisms include producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host and relationships that can be mutually beneficial or competitive.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands the characteristics and uses of maps, globes and other geographic tools and technologies.
Knows how maps help to find patterns of movement in space and time (e.g., mapping hurricane tracks over several seasons; mapping the spread of influenza throughout the world).

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: geography
Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.
Knows how technology affects the ways in which culture groups perceive and use places and regions (e.g., impact of technology such as air conditioning and irrigation on the human use of arid lands; changes in perception of environment by culture groups, such as the snowmobile's impact on the lives of Inuit people or the swamp buggy's impact on tourist travel in the Everglades).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: geography
Understands the nature, distribution and migration of human populations on Earth's surface.
Understands the impact of human migration on physical and human systems (e.g., the impact of European settlers on the High Plains of North America in the 19th century; impact of rural-to-urban migration on suburban development and the resulting lack of adequate housing and stress on infrastructure; effects of population gains or losses on socioeconomic conditions).

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: geography
Understands how geography is used to interpret the past.
Understands the ways in which physical and human features have influenced the evolution of significant historic events and movements (e.g., the effects of imperialism, colonization and decolonization on the economic and political developments of the 19th and 20th centuries; the geographical forces responsible for the industrial revolution in England in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; physical and human factors that have led to famines and large-scale refugee movements).

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Kathy Devine, science teacher, Viers Mill Elementary School, Rockville, Maryland.

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