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Half of a World Map, 1513

Piri Re'is (Admiral Piri Ibn Haji Memmed,  c1470 - 1554)







Admiral Piri Re'is (Piri Ibn Haji Memmed,  c1470 - 1554 (84))


It was a Turkish Admiral and cartographic buff, Piri Re'is (Piri Ibn Haji Memmed,  c1470 - 1554), who produced one of the most extraordinary documents known today.   It is half of a world map (the other half being missing) with annotated comments, dated 1513 and drawn on a gazelle hide (large sheets of paper were not around then and mappa mundi usually ended up on the largest hide available),  that  was discovered during restoration work on the Topkapi Palace in 1929.    The comments indicate that the map is a synthesis of a number of source maps held in the old Imperial Library of Constantinople, some possibly from the famous ancient Library of Alexandria and dating back to the three hundreds BC or earlier. 


The "Piri Re'is" map shows the West coast of Africa, the East coast of South America, and (it is claimed) the North (land) coast of Antarctica, all in amazingly accurate detail.  It is the last of these which if true is the most extraordinary, because the last time the Antarctic coastline was visible (i.e. before it got covered by ice and snow) was before 4000BC.  It took the modern sonar resources of the US military to confirm that the map does indeed seem to follow the underlying land coastline.   The mystery does not end there, because it is claimed that the accuracy of the map and its projection (centring on Alexandria) means that the ancient mapmakers must have known a lot of maths, and been able to calculate longitude (East-West position) accurately.  This was a skill unknown to the classic and medieval worlds - in fact it was thought to have been made possible only after the second half of the seventeen hundreds when the Englishman John Harrison made a sufficiently accurate maritime clock.


As you might expect the above interpretations have been been both disputed and also augmented with a lot of "lost civilization" speculation  (one of the the main drivers of this being Charles Hapgood and his book "Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings").  It could also be linked to the claimed Chinese explorations of the early fourteen hundreds (see Gavin Menzies' book "1421").


This map is taken from the catalogue from the

British Museum exhibition staged in 1988



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