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Updated: June 3, 2013 16:30 IST

Mystery map

SANJAY SIVADAS
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The map: An amazing feat
Special Arrangement The map: An amazing feat

Here’s a puzzle: A 1513 map that shows a continent that had not been discovered at that time!

In 1929, a map was found rolled up on a dusty shelf in a library at the Topkapi Palace in Constantinople (present day Istanbul), Turkey. It dates back to 1513. This map, which is now well-known as the Piri Reis Map, was drawn by Piri Ibn Haji Memmed (he was also known as Piri Reis); an admiral in the Turkish navy who happened to be a good cartographer.

Just one-third

The most striking thing about the Piri Reis Map (incidentally, only about one-thirds of it survives, today) is that it shows Antarctica; a continent which was not discovered until 1818.

The latter can be seen at the bottom of the Piri Reis Map. How somebody in 1513 could have known of the existence of Antarctica is intriguing. The clue may lie with Piri Reis, himself. According to him, the Piri Reis Map was compiled from a large number of ancient maps. Among them was a map drawn by Christopher Columbus, four Portuguese maps, an Arab map of India, eight maps drawn during the time of Alexander the Great in 332 BC and six maps that were from unknown sources.

According to author Graham Hancock “the true enigma of this 1513 map is not so much its inclusion of a continent not discovered until 1818 (Antarctica) but its portrayal of a part of the coastline of that continent under ice-free conditions which came to an end 6000 years ago and have not since recurred.”

Today, about 98 per cent of Antarctica is covered by ice. The Piri Reis Map depicts the northern coast of Antarctica, when it was not covered with ice.

Some geologists have estimated that the last time some parts of Antarctica may have been free of ice could have been between 17,000 and 12,000 years back.

Could the Piri Reis Map, as some people like Graham Hancock have suggested, be evidence of a pre-historic maritime civilisation which was capable of surveying the entire globe? The true enigma of this 1513 map is not so much its inclusion of a continent not discovered until 1818 (Antarctica) but its portrayal of part of the coastline of that continent under ice...”

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