Author of the Month

The Map At The Bottom Of The World
By Doug Fisher

While investigating the origins of ancient maps of Antarctica, the author discovers a copy of Agrippa’s long lost 2,000 year old Orbis Terrarum mysteriously affixed to the bottom of a 16th century globe and also determines Schöner’s method of choosing designs for his Antarctic continents.

Fig. 1
Figure 1 - Oronce Finé 1534 World Map. An early cordiform projection which features the Antarctic continent splayed along its southern edge some 300 years before it is believed to have been discovered. An inscription spans the width of the continent, "Southern land newly discovered, but not yet fully explored."

Among all the maps produced at the turn of the 16th century portraying an Antarctic continent, there are probably none more remarkable than those produced by French mathematician and cartographer Oronce Finé. Finé's maps not only present Antarctica as an independent landmass unlike maps such as the Piri Reis map, but also render the continent with amazing accuracy.

Finé's 1534 World Map (Fig. 1) is rendered on a standard cordiform projection, a grid of latitudes and longitudes conforming to a singular heart-shaped frame. It is a colorful highly detailed map with Eurasia, Africa and the Americas highlighted in white while the Antarctic continent, splayed across a large portion of the map's lower perimeter, is rendered gold. The gold toned continent is also distinguished from the rest with a Latin inscription spanning its width, "Terra Australis nuper inventa, sed nondum plene examinata," translated "Southern land newly discovered, but not yet fully explored." Had it been fully explored it would have been found to be a rather small landform which we know today as Tierra del Fuego. Twelve years prior to the creation of this map, Ferdinand Magellan discovered the strait allowing passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific and Finé was one of many attempting to predict the size and shape of the unexplored land forming the strait's southern coast. Hence, the massive continent positioned just a few miles beyond the tip of South America to allow for Magellan's strait.

While Finé 1534 map renders a fairly accurate shape for Antarctica, it is not so easy to discern within the cordiform projection. His 1531 world map (Fig. 2) includes the same design rendered on a double-cordiform projection, which places the world onto two heart-shaped hemispheres, one depicting the northern the other the southern hemisphere. The result being that the Antarctic design is presented with much less distortion, approaching the appearance of modern-day Antarctica presented on a standard polar projection. Considering the map's remarkable resemblance to the actual Antarctic continent, one can easily understand Charles Hapgood's reaction of awe and disbelief when he first stumbled upon it, Hapgood being the American academician who reintroduced the map to the world in 1966 with his book Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. While our current view of history dictates that this cannot be an authentic map of Antarctica, the accuracy in Finé's design strongly suggests otherwise.

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