Late in 1929, Gustav Deissmann, a German theologian, was working in Istanbul at the Topkapi Palace Library. While cataloging antique items he found a gazelle-skin parchment in a stack of discarded items. This parchment had a map drawn on it, and Deissmann was amazed to see that it appeared to show the outline of South America. He rescued the parchment, which is now known as the Piri Reis Map.
The map he studied had been drawn and signed in 1513 by Turkish cartographer Hagii Ahmed Muhiddin Piri, also known as Piri Reis. In addition to being a cartographer, Piri Reis served in the Turkish navy, for which he held the rank of admiral. He stated that he had used 20 different maps and charts as his source documents. Eight of them were Ptolemaic maps (maps of the known world according to the 2nd century Hellenistic or Greek society), four were Portuguese maps, one was an Arabic map, and one was drawn by Christopher Columbus.
This simple piece of preserved gazelle skin has been the basis of intense controversy in the world of cartography. For one thing, the map appears to show Antarctica almost 300 years before it was discovered. Not only does it show Antarctica, but the continent is drawn as a land mass as it would have appeared before it was covered with its ice cap over 6,000 years ago.
This controversy was precipitated when Professor Charles Hapgood published, in 1965, his theory about Antarctica in the book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. Professor Hapgood, based at the University of New Hampshire, had studied the Piri Reis Map with his students and found several things that they could not explain. Not only was there the issue of Antarctica without its ice cap, but they noticed that the map was drawn using the Mercator Projection, a methodology not used by European cartographers until the late 16th century.
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