On October 9, 1929, a German theologian named Gustav Adolf Deissmann was cataloguing items in the Topkapi Palace library in Istanbul when he happened across a curious parchment located among some disregarded material. On the gazelle skin parchment was a map, now referred to as the Piri Reis map .
The map was drawn and signed by Turkish cartographer Hagji Ahmed Muhiddin Piri , aka Piri Reis, and is dated to 1513 AD. Reis was an admiral in the Turkish navy, an experienced sailor, and a cartographer, who claimed to have used 20 source maps and charts to construct the map, including 8 Ptolemaic maps, 4 Portuguese maps, an Arabic map, and a map by Christopher Columbus.
Since its discovery, the Piri Reis map has stirred both intrigue and controversy, mostly due to the presence of what appears to be a representation of Antarctica 300 years before it was discovered. Another—if not even more intriguing facet of the appearance of Antarctica—is that it appears to show the land mass before it was covered in ice, over 6000 years ago.
Evidence of Ancient Technology?
The great debate was sparked by Professor Charles Hapgood when he published his theory on the Piri Reis map in his book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings in 1965. He and a team of students at the University of New Hampshire studied the map and found many anomalies, such as the use of mercatorial projection and the inclusion of a pre-ice Antarctica.
The Greeks were able to create cylindrical maps based on their knowledge of a spherical earth, though mercatorial projection was not used by Europeans until later in the 16 th century, and were also able to use astronomy and geometry to calculate latitude and longitude, though absolute accuracy was not possible until the invention of the chronometer in 1760. While these two feats—amazing as they are—could be explained by use of Greek source maps and charts from the age of Alexander, nothing could explain the inclusion of Antarctica. As a result, Hapgood proposed that the map was based on materials that pre-date 4000 BC, before any known developed languages or progressive civilizations.
This theory implies that a prehistoric civilization had the technology to navigate major seaways and fairly accurately chart the globe. Hapgood also suggested that the topographic depiction of the interior of the continents required aerial capabilities, implying the prehistoric ‘super’ civilization to be both nautical and aerial masters and leading to the further speculation of either an Atlantean or alien civilization. No evidence has been found to support such theories.
South America vs Antarctica
Skeptics of Hapgood’s theory point out that the map is a representation of the South American coastline, pointing to modern physical features of the coast and interior included on the 16 th century map. Otherwise, argue critics, the image would indicate that Antarctica and South America had once been connected at Uruguay, and that Argentina did not yet exist.
While this argument possibly dismisses the presence of Antarctica on the Piri Reis map, other anomalous maps have been found that are identical to the the ice free continent as only 20 th century satellite technology has been able to identify.
Other theories of Hapgood’s have already been dismissed, such as his polar shift theory in which he claimed a sudden shift in the inclination of the Earth’s axis of rotation in 9,500 BC could have resulted in the displacement of Antarctica, sending it hundreds of miles south and resulting in the alteration of its climate from semi-temperate to freezing. All evidence suggests that this shift could not, and did not, occur.
The true question is whether or not Antarctica is the identifiable continent on the Piri Reis map, or any of the other anomalous maps. If it is, could the Piri Reis map have been based on the documents of a yet undiscovered, prehistoric civilization, one that could possess technology enabling them to travel and accurately chart the globe? Regardless of the true origin of the sources, one thing is for certain: this map opens up the debate over how we view our own history and what, if any, of those views are accurate. Perhaps someday the truth will be discovered.
Top image: The Piri Reis Map. Credit: Mehmetilker / Adobe Stock